DEAD MAN DOWN
** (out of 5)
March 8, 2013
Colin Farrell as VICTOR
Noomi Rapace as BEATRICE
Terrence Howard as ALPHONSE
Dominic Cooper as DARCY
Isabelle Huppert as VALENTINE LOUZON
Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev
BY KEVIN CARR
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When I first heard about “Dead Man Down,” specifically that it reunited Danish director Niels Arden Oplev with his original Swedish-language “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” star Noomi Rapace, I was immediately intrigued. It sounded like it could be a great thing, introducing the American movie audience to some solid filmmaking.
It also had the potential to be a disaster, considering imported European directors don’t always mesh well with Hollywood. And as adorable as Noomi Rapace is, she is only as good as the movie that surrounds her.
Sadly, Oplev’s “Dead Man Down” turned out to be the latter. While Oplev brings some very interesting elements to the table – like a grim feel, and an approved retro soundtrack – he’s simply out of his depth with this film and flailing in the American studio system.
The story follows Victor (Colin Farrell), a man who is plotting the revenge against the New York crime boss named Alphonse (Terrence Howard) who was responsible for the death of his family. He does this by infiltrating Alphonse’s organization and planning an elaborate assassination attempt to take down everyone involved. However, his plan goes a bit awry when he meets his neighbor Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), who blackmails him into a revenge plan for herself.
The film stumbles out of the gate with a dull, drawn-out monologue by one of Victor’s friends. In retrospect, what was said was appropriate to the characters, but without the knowledge of what happens later in the film, all the message is lost. I suppose the impact hinges on watching the movie multiple times, but I doubt anyone wants to do that.
Using the start-in-the-middle technique, things are revealed throughout the film, allowing the viewer to piece things together. Unfortunately, the key points have already been telegraphed by the trailers, and it’s just the annoying (and often unnecessary) details that are drawn out.
Eventually, the film flies completely off the rails around the 20-minute mark, and it never recovers. At times, it feels like Oplev is trying to make a dark, somber character piece. Other times, it feels like he’s being forced into an over-the-top actioner by the studio. In the end, neither focus takes hold, and you’re left with this weird mix of morose northern European arthouse filmmaking with out-of-place Hollywood spectacle.
Ultimately, in retrospect, this is a ludicrous film, and it hinges upon much of the set-up. Beatrice’s backstory is that she was a beautician that was in a disfiguring car accident that left her face and arm scarred. She can’t bring herself to continue as a beautician because she sees herself as ugly, an opinion shared by the neighborhood kids who chuck stones at her and jeer “Monster!” at her when she walks by.
The problem with this is that these scars are hardly disfiguring. They’re not slight, almost unnoticeable Tina Fay scars. But they’re also not the injuries of Two-Face from “The Dark Knight.” Honestly, with her training as a beautician, she should be able to find a small amount of cover-up that could mask them into subtlety.
And let’s face it… even a mildly scarred Noomi Rapace is still more beautiful than 90 percent of the women in the world.
This may seem like a trivial and misogynistic thing to focus on, but it’s critical to the plot of the film in many ways. As I see it, the reluctance to really show disfiguring scars on the leading lady is symbolic of how Hollywood refuses to let their stars appear unappealing even if it’s necessary for the role. I’m sure the studio got in the way of Oplev’s vision for his actress, which is just a microcosm of how they it probably got in the way of the entire film.