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Review: Dead Man Down (2013)

Dead Man Down (2013)

Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev

Premise: A low level member of a crime syndicate (Colin Farrell) pits two organizations against each other. At the same time he develops a relationship with a mysterious neighbor (Noomi Rapace).

What Works: Dead Man Down reunites the director and star of the 2009 Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and it shares a few of the strengths of that film.  As he did in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, director Niels Arden Oplev makes interesting use of color and camera placement. The color scheme of the movie is very drab but particular costumes feature intense hues that contrast with the setting and draw the viewer’s eye. The sets feature a texture of grime and grit; this is typical of crime thrillers but the filmmakers of Dead Man Down do an above average job. The acting highlights of Dead Man Down are provided by Noomi Rapace and Dominic Cooper. Rapace plays a mysterious woman who has recently survived a car accident and lives with the physical and emotional scars. The actress conveys nuance and often drives the emotional shifts of her scenes. Dominic Cooper plays an ambitious new member of the crime syndicate who befriends Colin Farrell’s character and his earnestness is infecting and complicates the revenge plotline. The triangular relationship between the characters played by Farrell, Rapace, and Cooper gives the film some hope which adds a human dimension to what is otherwise a standard crime picture.

What Doesn’t: Dead Man Down begins fairly strong but it suffers from too many missteps, mostly due to a script that is too complicated for its own good. The movie often seems as though it is a cut down version of a television mini-series. It’s too long and has too many characters but the story goes lengthy stretches between major plot points. The nuance of character relationships is often lost and the movie squanders its many set ups with little or no pay off. This is apparent in the dramatic scenes which are intended to reveal the subtext of the story and develop the characters. These scenes often fall flat with obvious dialogue, an absence of subtext, and a lack of dramatic shape. That vacuity in the movie is the result of a story that isn’t really about anything. Crime thrillers of this sort are about issues like loyalty and revenge and how those things become complicated by moral and legal conundrums. Dead Man Down is also about these issues but the filmmakers are not able to do anything interesting with them. The movie establishes what Colin Farrell’s character is plotting revenge for and the subplot with Noomi Rapace’s character offers him an alternative but neither of these options is compelling The revenge plotline gets lost and there is no dramatic momentum to force Farrell’s character toward a meaningful choice. The story also mishandles the subplot between Farrell and Rapace’s characters; although the script make her more than the idealized “pure” woman who will redeem the criminal, she manipulates him in ways that aren’t consistent with the romantic goal of this storyline. Dead Man Down really goes awry in its ending. Up until this point the movie is on a slow boil but it suddenly explodes into a shoot-‘em-up action finale that belongs in another movie.

Bottom Line: Dead Man Down is generally well-acted but the story has too many problems. The picture isn’t exciting or gripping in the way that a crime thriller ought to be and the last minute attempt to inject action comes across as awkward and forced.

Episode: #431 (March 17, 2013)