More Like "Inert Man Down", Know What I'm Saying? Review

What is it about revenge that Hollywood finds so compelling? Is it that American audiences, so enamored with violence (God bless ‘em), can’t resist the allure of moral impunity? Or is it simply that lazy screenwriters tend to fall back on the easiest possible motivation for a lead character, one that all but erases the need to create a back-story? Both are possible, but neither would explain Dead Man Down, the first American effort from Niels Arden Oplev (director of the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy). Despite the presence of a number of capable actors (Colin Farrell, Terrence Howard, Noomi Rapace), Down is a strikingly joyless, overly complicated affair that offers neither cathartic release nor brainless entertainment. Instead, it serves largely to marvel at just how seriously creative people can take themselves even when they’re not making Schindler’s List.

In the opening minutes of Down, Victor (Farrell) saves the life of his crime lord boss, Alphonse Hoyt (Howard), in the midst of a shoot-out preceded by much gangland lingo that makes the whole thing seem like more of a bureaucracy than the DMV. Slowly, but surely, we discover that Victor has infiltrated Hoyt’s gang solely to kill Hoyt, who was responsible for the death of his wife. But Victor’s plan isn’t as fool-proof as it seems. From the apartment across the way, Beatrice (Rapace) watches him, observing his every movement, until she is absolutely sure of what he is going to do. When she has proof, she approaches him, and pulls a sort of one-way Strangers on a Train: if he doesn't kill the man who disfigured her in a drunk driving accident, she'll take video evidence of a murder he committed to the police. At the same time, Darcy (Dominic Cooper) begins looking into the many death threats that Hoyt receives as an aspiring crime lord, and gets closer and closer to the truth of who Victor is.

Down proceeds from a number of plainly preposterous ideas, the first being that Noomi Rapace is in any way ugly. The car accident gave Beatrice a slight scar over one of her eyes, which the film seems to think is enough to inspire adolescent boys to run after her screaming ‘monster’, rather than charmingly flirting with her in the way that adolescent boys do. There are other ridiculous leaps of logic (indeed, many others), but this is perhaps the first moment that makes you truly question just how firmly the director’s feet are planted on the ground. One might be willing to overlook these if the film had anything in the way of propulsion, but that’s just not the film that this is trying to be. Only in Hollywood could Rapace be passed off as unattractive, and only in Hollywood could something this slickly produced be passed off as a gritty, 70s inspired crime thriller, which is where it clearly takes much of its inspiration from.

Which, in Hollywood terms, apparently means hopelessly, stiflingly morose. Down takes place almost exclusively at night, and is lit with the same sort of industrial colors as any number of post-Fincher music videos. Its actors run the gamut from grim to stoic, occasionally passing all the way over into brooding. The key to any revenge film is the feeling of loss, so that we understand exactly what our protagonist hopes to regain by going vigilante (even if just in flashbacks, as in Memento). As nobody here seems capable of cracking a smile, let alone fostering a warm, reciprocal relationship, there’s never a sense of what drives them, or any opening for engagement that would smooth over some of the rough spots. 

SPECIAL FEATURES

There's the featurette, "Staging the Action: The Firefights".

"Dead Man Down" is on sale July 9, 2013 and is rated R. Drama. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev. Written by J.H. Wyman. Starring Colin Farrell, Dominic Cooper, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard, Isabelle Huppert.

Jul
23
2013
Anders Nelson • Associate Editor

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