Stellar cast cannot save ‘Dead Man Down’
Ridiculous premise undermines revenge thriller
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 15, 2013 13:03
“Even the most damaged heart can be mended,” a character says in the opening moments of “Dead Man Down.” This revenge thriller asks what it takes to heal a damaged person — more specifically, the two damaged lead characters — and it does so in stark terms. Will exacting revenge heal these wounds, or only intensify the pain? While the movie doesn’t provide a straight answer to this question, another more important question arises as the movie progresses — do we even care if these characters’ hearts can be mended?
The two vengeful leads are Victor (Colin Farrell), whose wife and young child were murdered by a gang, and his love interest Beatrice, (Noomi Rapace), whose face was scarred after a car accident caused by a drunk driver. To exact his revenge, Victor has infiltrated the gang that killed his family and is slowly orchestrating a plot that will end with the execution of all the gang members. Meanwhile, Beatrice, after some silent flirting from adjacent apartment balconies, asks Victor out on a date, despite her self−consciousness about her scars. They hit it off, but we soon realize that Beatrice is on this date strictly for business, eventually revealing to Victor a video that she captured through the window of him performing a seemingly gang−related murder in his apartment. Beatrice then demands that Victor kill the drunk driver who hit her car, or else she will turn him into the police. Despite the initial adversarial nature of the relationship, the two soon grow to care deeply for one another, and, towards the end, begin to question whether revenge will ultimately bring them happiness.
“Dead Man Down” has the ingredients to be an awesome movie: Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace are its stars, it has a cool dual−revenge premise and it has an acclaimed director — Niels Arden Oplev, who directed the original, Swedish version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2009). And while the movie does some things well, it is crippled by a frustrating and illogical script.
The most glaring issue has to do with Rapace’s character. As mentioned above, she was scarred in a car accident, but the damage is limited to the area around her left eye. These scars by no means make Beatrice ugly. If anything, they look cool and make her even sexier. Yet, she is so fixated on these scars that she is somehow driven to want to murder another human being. If this premise weren’t ridiculous enough, there is a group of kids that hangs around the outside of her apartment and attacks Beatrice, throwing rocks at her and calling her “monster.” It is preposterous.
Added to this, Beatrice has very little agency in this movie. Noomi Rapace has played a badass chick in much of her recent work — think “Prometheus” (2012) and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2009) — so it was both disappointing and surprising to see her portray a passive, vain damsel in distress. The weaknesses and absurdities of this character may have been intentional, but it doesn’t matter, because her character greatly weakens the film.
“Dead Man Down” also awkwardly positions itself in the revenge genre. Traditionally, the villain has some kind of history with the protagonist. This approach to telling a revenge story ultimately provides the audience with a much bigger pay off at the climax, as compared to “Dead Man Down,” which has the villains wronging the protagonists totally by chance — a random car accident in one case and some stray bullets in the other. The stakes here are vastly lower by comparison, leaving the movie to hobble to the finish. So, to answer the earlier question of whether we care if these characters can heal: not really.
That said, this movie does get a few things right. The acting is strong, with Farrell, Rapace and Terrence Howard as the mob boss doing good work in spite of the script. It explores the implications of revenge in a somewhat original way — at one point, for example, Beatrice gets a taste of revenge, but soon discovers that she can’t swallow the guilt. It should also be noted that Victor is somewhat compelling — thanks mostly to Farrell’s likability — but also because he masterminds a cool revenge plot and deals with the death of his family. And finally, the thin plot is thankfully occasionally interrupted by some thrilling gunfight scenes, which are fueled by an exhilarating electronic score.
If you’re really into revenge movies or are a big Colin Farrell fan, give “Dead Man Down” a shot. If not, then don’t, because the absurdities in this movie are too glaring to forgive.