One of the big hooks for the new Colin Farrell movie DEAD MAN DOWN is its director Niels Arden Oplev, who also directed the original THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Considering how wildly popular Niels other film was, it stands to reason this should be of great importance to American audiences, and hopefully produce similar results… right? Also back in front of Opley’s camera is his former leading lady Noomi Rapace, joined by Academy Award-winner Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper, and Isabelle Huppert. Nice cast, solid director, so does it all lead to a fantastic movie?
The story of DEAD MAN DOWN revolves around Victor (Farrell), a hit man with a tortured past that is only slowly revealed for the audience – a man who spends his days working for crime boss Alphonse (Howard). Victor meets Beatrice (Rapace), his neighbor from the building across the way, and the two form a relationship. Beatrice is heavily scarred on her face from a “car accident”, and is clearly tortured by her appearance. While courting the shy young woman, Victor soon realizes she has an agenda to carry out, and he’s merely a pawn in her plan. But his own secrets begin to come to light, and soon they both find themselves getting involved in very dangerous situations.
Stylistically, DEAD MAN DOWN is a wonderful-looking film, gritty and slick with crisp colors and beautifully framed shots. Oplev knows how to photograph his performers, and makes them look very good in pretty much every scene. The story on the other hand is not as impressive. The film’s effort to be mysterious ends up feeling clunky and misguided. The pacing is incredibly slow, all building up to a pretty intense final battle, which is the highlight of the piece. The last ten minutes or so almost make up for the lack of action throughout the rest of the script, but at that point it’s hard to attach yourself to any of it. The characters played by Farrell and Rapace are both so flawed and messed up by their respective past lives, it’s actually hard to want them to stay together, as we can only imagine they’re a bad fit for each other.
Terrence Howard tries to make the most of his crime boss personality, but there’s just not a lot of meat there. We needed to see more of him being really bad and nasty, so through our eyes we could understand the threat he’s meant to represent. Instead he seems like a by-the-numbers baddie. Farrell does his best with the strong and silent portrayal of Victor, but like many hero characters in these types of stories, he just seems boring. Noomi Rapace gives a solid effort with her role of Beatrice, but it’s obvious the filmmakers are trying to pass her off as a much younger and sexier woman than she is. I love Rapace, and I do find her incredibly engaging, but she’s playing a part here that just never seems to fit her. The two standout roles belong to Dominic Cooper as Darcy, Victor’s henchman buddy, and Isabelle Huppert as Beatrice’s hard-of-hearing French mother. Cooper is almost always good in movies, and he’s so lively and fun here that he actually outweighs Colin Farrell in several scenes. One has to wonder how the film would have played if he had the lead role. Huppert brings a welcome sense of humor to her character, playing an overbearing but very caring mother, and in many ways becomes a more attractive personality than her on-screen daughter.
The screenplay is by J.H. Wyman, who previously wrote episodes of FRINGE and KEEN EDDIE… oh, and the Brad Pitt/Julia Robert vehicle THE MEXICAN. I’d be inclined to place most of the blame on him, only because the pacing is so poorly executed, but then again that could be due to bad editing or script changes. Either way DEAD MAN DOWN is rather forgettable, save for a big shootout at the end with shades of THE PROFESSIONAL, that as previously stated hardly makes up for the 90 minutes of sluggish meandering that precedes it… but hey, it’s a great-looking movie, so there’s that.