Monday, November 10, 2014

"Dead Man Down" (2013)

Starring Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace and Terrence Howard
Written by JH Wyman
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev
Rated R - Violence, strong language, sex
Running Time: 117 Minutes

Victor (Colin Farrell) is an enforcer for Alphonse (Terrence Howard), a midlevel crime lord. For the past three months, someone has been offing other members of Alphonse's crew and mailing him cryptic notes. Victor's friend Darcy (Dominic Cooper) tries to discover the identity of this killer by following a trail left behind by the latest victim, who was also on the case.

Meanwhile, Victor befriends his next door neighbor, a woman named Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) who recently had her face reconstructed after an automobile accident. The two recognize something in each other, each damaged in different ways, and when Beatrice learns what it is that Victor does, she asks him a favor: to murder the man who drunkenly smashed into her with her car, scarring her face and ruining her life.

But the pressure is on: What Alphonse doesn't know is that Victor is the man who has been killing his crew. But he's getting closer and closer to figuring that out.

"Dead Man Down" came and went quickly at the box office, taking in only a little more than half its production budget. Which is really rather unfortunate, because it's not that bad a film at all. It's not a great one, either, but it is somewhat refreshing in the presentation of its action sequences and in the way the plot unfolds.

Starting with its flaws, "Dead Man Down" moves pretty slowly. The languid pace is probably the film's worst offense, as it ends up feeling rather a bit longer than it's sub-two-hour running time. I don't often say this, but you could easily shave ten minutes out of this thing for a tighter, quicker experience without losing any of the character work happening.

The script is intriguingly structured, opening three months into Victor's plan to take revenge on Alphonse and on a crew of Albanians that Alphonse hired to murder Victor's family. We don't learn Victor's true identity or why he's doing this (or even that he's the one) until well after the opening credits. It's an interesting way to throw the audience into the story, but it's also a risky proposition that could leave them extremely confused for a solid chunk of the film's runtime.

Pacing problems also enhance other flaws, like how the characters, aside from Dominic Cooper's enthusiastic Darcy, are all kind of dour people. Noomi Rapace's Beatrice talks quite a bit about the lack of joy in her life, about finding those moments when she feels human again, and the entire film kind of feels that way at times.

When things do liven up, "Dead Man Down" ultimately proves itself to be an enjoyable action thriller. Victor's ability to turn the tables on just about any opponent feels clever and thought-through, though occasionally giving him the feeling of being omnipotent. But when your main character is out for revenge, you kind of want that. You want to see him steamroll through his enemies; there's a satisfaction to that aspect of a revenge film.

The film's climax is kind of overblown in that respect, as Alphonse's home becomes the setting for some real carnage that involves gunfights and an exploding pickup truck.

"Dead Man Down" is a thriller with some merit, but pacing issues keep it from being something you'll want to enjoy again and again. Still, if you have the patience and are looking for something a little different to stream on Netflix some afternoon, this one might be a good choice.

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