Reviewed at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival
Addison (Eric Bana) and his sister Liza (Olivia Wilde) are making their getaway from a heist at an Indian casino when their car hits a deer, flipping the vehicle and killing their driver; when a trooper shows up, Addison puts a bullet in his head. Jay (Charlie Hunnam), a former boxer just out of the joint, goes to his old gym to collect a debt from his trainer; their altercation gets physical, and Jay accidently kills the guy. Liza, fleeing the scene of her crime, is picked up on the snowy road by Jay, fleeing his, and the two spur-of-the-moment murders converge.
That's the basic set-up of Stefan Rozowitzky's Deadfall, but there's more. There's Jay's parents, June (Sissy Spacek) and Chet (Kris Kristofferson), she forgiving, he not so much; there's the plucky deputy (Kate Mara), who can't get any respect from the sheriff (Treat Williams), who also happens to be her dad. Even the owner of the local truck stop and bar gets her story told in miniature. What I'm getting at is, Deadfall is a busy movie--sometimes distractingly so. It requires indulgence from a viewer; those individual story threads are interesting, but seem so far-flung and discombobulated as to risk alienating an audience. If you've seen a movie or two, it's fairly safe to assume that all of the pieces are going to converge, but until that event occurs, the experience of watching the movie is not unlike a couple hours of channel surfing.
That said, you're flipping between some pretty good shows. Bana--an actor whose possibilities we still seem to be just discovering--absolutely crushes his hillbilly psycho bit, and while Wilde can (unsurprisingly) wield her doey sensuality like a sword, she also impresses in the dramatic beats; she is clearly reveling in the character's complexities and contradictions, even most are tipped in a too-obvious Big Confession Speech. Hunnam is an actor I admired on Undeclared but must admit not placing until the end, since the film eschews opening credits--a choice that makes the slow roll-out of the ace ensemble all the more effective (you keep being surprised by who turns up next). Spacek brings her reliable quiet dignity and effortless grace--she even sells this old chestnut: "Your father loves you, Jay, he just has a hard time showing it." And Kristofferson is, well, Kristofferson, which is a compliment. Only the ever-likable Mara underwhelms, mainly because it's difficult to tell whether her little girlishness is working for or against her.
When the assorted elements finally converge, the film hits a bit of a trouble patch. The difficulty is that they've stacked up too many cards: so much has to be confessed, apologized for, cleared up, and squared away that it threatens to capsize the picture, and the actors have to do their damnedest to overcome the screenplay's corniest writing. There are other speed bumps (the sex scenes are tiresomely Cinemax, and can we be done with the out-of-nowhere car accident as a cheap shock tactic?), and the scattershot structure keeps the picture from really hanging together until its overcooked conclusion. But this much should be stressed: admirable performances and a well-sustained mood can go a long way in a movie, and Deadfall has enough of both to at least warrant a look.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.