In his first American directorial debut, Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Noomi Rapace have teamed up for the first time since their Swedish hit. While the fans can rejoice about Oplev and Rapace's newest feature, the talent doesn't always translate to another country's cinema very well. Niels Arden Oplev decided upon the script for Dead Man Down, which was written by J.H. Wyman, who wrote numerous episodes of the television series Fringe. Regardless of the amount of talent involved, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's a recipe for great filmmaking. Ultimately, this crime thriller is a flawed release. It starts as a European neo-noir, but it transforms into a ridiculous action spectacle by its finale. Dead Man Down doesn't entirely showcase the filmmaker's talents, but it grasps onto your attention and doesn't let go.
In New York City, Victor (Colin Farrell) is a crime-lord's right-hand man who lives by himself in his dim apartment. One night, he looks out his window and makes eye contact with a beautiful woman in the building across from him. She lives with her partly-deaf mother (Isabelle Huppert). After some hesitation, he decides to meet this mystery woman, named Beatrice (Noomi Rapace). Once they formally introduce themselves and begin conversing, they're both clearly hiding something from one another, which will ultimately bind them. The feelings they have for one another only grow stronger, as they're drawn together by one passionate goal: revenge.
One of the most interesting elements found in Dead Man Down is that the film sacrifices keeping us at the edge of our seats for character development. While this is a crime/thriller, it's also a drama. The story follows Victor and Beatrice through their need for revenge and working through the heartbreak that others have caused them. These are broken characters who believe that killing those responsible is the only answer. Victor and Beatrice are vulnerable individuals who we ultimately truly care about. They're good people who have led themselves to doing bad things. Dead Man Down is constantly testing the willpower and morality of our lead characters, as Victor and Beatrice act as self-reflexive elements for one another, reminding us that they could abandon their path of revenge and danger whenever they want. However, this is the only way that Victor and Beatrice believe that revenge is the only way their hearts will be mended back together. The majority of this motion picture is dark and serious, but the feature offers itself to a more humorous and light atmosphere when it gets the chance through Beatrice's mother, Valentine Louzon. The characters in this neo-noir are undeniably intriguing, and they manage to keep the film above water.
As the plot continues to unravel, the flaws begin to form into a pile. My main gripe with our lead characters would be that Beatrice is seen being harassed by a group of children and being called a "Monster," which is a completely unnecessary addition to the plot. Beatrice has already gained the viewers' sympathy by this point, and it feels entirely contrived. Towards the end of the second act, Dead Man Down abandons its European neo-noir tone, and begins feeling like a typical American thriller. Wyman attempts to create tension by making the antagonists get close to discovering who Victor truly is. His discovery is inevitable, but the writer drags it out as long as he can. You'll find yourself rolling your eyes once the film tries to put one of the gang members on the fence between "good" and "evil," which feels like a completely unnecessary and unnatural development.
While the plot goes off the tracks, the actors remain relatively stable. Colin Farrell is a bit stoic, but that's what Victor's character calls for. While he doesn't elevate the character, he delivers what the role needs. Noomi Rapace is the shining star of Dead Man Down in the role of Beatrice. She's convincing and adds a dimension of mystery to the character that wouldn't be there otherwise. Rapace operates within the role very well, as she makes this already sympathetic woman even more appealing. Terrence Howard plays the crime lord, Alphonse. However, the script doesn't allow him to do anything outside of looking the part. Dominic Cooper portrays a fellow gang-member, Darcy. He was exceptional in The Devil's Double, but he's stuck in the same situation as Howard. Isabelle Huppert is a treat in this picture, as she provides the much-needed comic relief in the role of Beatrice's mother, Valentine Louzon. This is a talented cast, and while they didn't all get the opportunity to shine, they create a believable network.
Director Niels Arden Oplev utilizes his visuals as well as he does his actors. There are times when his style from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo comes out through the camera movements. Oplev works with a lot more action sequences than he did previously, but he makes every second of it look great. While the third act deals with some ridiculous gun battles, he certainly proves that he has an eye for visuals. Even the details seen in Beatrice's facial scars look incredibly realistic. The dark-tinted cinematography pulls its audience into Victor and Beatrice's world of vengeance quite well. Jacob Groth, who worked on the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, has developed a score that fits undeniably well with the images put on screen.
Despite all of its flaws, Dead Man Down isn't horrible. Niels Arden Oplev could only go so far with J.H. Wyman's screenplay. While the first, and most of the second, acts are enthralling, the same cannot be said for the third act. It transforms from an interesting European neo-noir into a generic American action/thriller. However, the film's focus on these two broken characters most certainly keeps us interested in what the plot has to offer. This intrigue is only reinforced further by the cast (Noomi Rapace in particular). Dead Man Down works a lot better as a character study than it does a crime/thriller. Even so, the overall film passes by the skin of its teeth. Recommended.