Heading in to see Dead Man Down, a New York City mob movie starring the ever handsome, but increasingly uninteresting Colin Farrell, I didn’t have the highest hopes.
A couple of curveballs sweetened the proposition, namely Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, who helmed the original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, who also brings his leading lady from that classic, Noomi Rapace, along for the ride.
Farrell, in a partial return to In Bruges form, plays brooding and uncommunicative Victor, who lives alone in a high-rise tower in a less than salubrious part of the city. He’s involved in a rather swishly dressed gang, run by the odious Alphonse (Terrence Howard from the first Iron Man).
It’s slowly teased out that Victor has his own agenda, keeping close tabs on the miscreants, all the while forming an unlikely alliance with fellow gang member Darcy, played as a New Yorker by likeable Brit and rising talent Dominic Cooper.
Rapace, as Beatrice, lives in an apartment opposite Victor. A feisty yet troubled character, upon witnessing Victor violently kill another man, she hits upon the unlikely ruse of blackmailing him to take out the drunk driver who has left her both facially and emotionally, scarred. And also hits on Victor.
Dead Man Down has gaping plot holes the size of Manhattan, and apparently occurs in a parallel universe where gang members can strut through the streets with machine guns and houses can be blown sky high without a single cop ever showing up. A case of forgotten identity stretches believability to its very limits, and logic failures abound.
While it’s wonderful to have the fabulous French actress Isabelle Huppert show up as Beatrice’s partially deaf mother, lord knows what to make of their wildly differing accents.
And yet I thoroughly enjoyed this exciting and, dare I say, enticingly original thriller. Dead Man Down takes the thriller genre and has some fun with it, and for that it should be commended.
Opening on a quiet family moment between Darcy, newborn in arms, and his chosen godfather (no pun intended) Victor, we’re immediately launched into a violent gun fight with reggae-playing drug lords.
Rather than run with this frenetic pace and run-of-the-mill tropes, Dead Man Down slows things right down, with a few key action scenes sprinkled liberally between quiet character arcs that expand upon the basic revenge fantasy model.
Oplev presents a wonderfully unfamiliar New York that’s eerily grim and largely avoids the city’s obvious landmarks, save a glimpse of the Chrysler from an odd angle. Crumbling, abandoned ships in semi-wild surrounds seem ghostlike, while that iconic, shimmering skyline appears once amidst the tombstones of an old graveyard across the water.
It’s a bleak vision of the Big Apple that harks back to Steve McQueen’s Shame, but this film is far more fun than that pompously empty offering.
J.H. Wyman’s script teases out the obscured plot, wrapping the basic gang premise in a slow drip mystery revolving around a game Farrell who brings heart to his ambiguous role.
Rapace is far from your average damsel in distress, showing way more balls than her Ripley analogue in Prometheus, and is rewarded with a fascinating back story and character progression that mirrors that of Victor, elevating this thriller from the standard B-movie fare.
Yes, there are plenty of shootouts, but the violence is less cartoony than you might expect, with the dark heart of Oplev’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo beating underneath it. The dynamic between Rapace, Farrell and, to a lesser extent, Cooper serves up a mob movie that won’t trouble Coppola, but is thoroughly entertaining.
Stephen A Russell