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Dead Man Down

2013-05-15 12:34
 
Dead Man Down is dead on arrival, despite some good intentions and a top notch cast.
Dead Man Down
What it's about:

Viktor (played by Colin Farrell) is a man out for revenge against the crime empire that killed his wife and child but things get complicated when he meets neighbour Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), the woman living across from his who has her own scars and her own thirst for revenge.

What we thought:

Dead Man Down is a film that unfortunately lives down to its rather lacklustre title, despite having a number of things very much in its favour. It isn't a terrible film by any means, but by resolutely refusing to live up to its own potential, it is a very disappointing one.

Revenge stories are some of the most archetypal and, therefore, most overplayed stories around. They also belong to a genre that was so perfectly perfected by William Shakespeare in Hamlet that they still live in the Bard's shadow, no matter how many centuries have passed. In the same way that Romeo and Juliet still defines romantic tragedies, Hamlet still lurks in the shadows of all revenge dramas.

As such, it's pointless to expect anything really new from the genre. Instead, revenge films rise and fall according to how well they understand the the appeal, as well as the conventions, of the genre in which they exist. More than anything else, what makes a good revenge story is that is more about how the act of revenge – or at least the journey towards it – affects the wronged protagonist than how it affects the person who he or she is pursuing. The very best revenge stories understand that by seeking revenge, the protagonist starts to become more and more a reflection of the object of his revenge.

Here's the thing about Dead Man Down: It seemingly understands all this, but it somehow fails to put it into action. At every turn, it looks like the film is trying to explore the moral and spiritual impact on a basically good man who is driven to revenge, especially when it adds the twist of having his journey mirrored by the woman with whom he begins to fall in love, but the film never quite reaches its mark.  

It's problems certainly aren't with its excellent cast who, aside for a tonally out of place performance from Terrence Howard, manage to more than do the material justice – and, to be fair, the characterisation throughout the film is largely pretty strong. Similarly solid are the film's cinematography and production design. There really is no two ways about it, somewhere between the script by J.H. Wyman and Niels Arden Oplev's direction, the film simply fails to connect on either storytelling or, more pertinently, emotional levels.

Oplev's work on the Swedish-language version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was notable mainly for his ability to give that film a very icy feel that fit its location perfectly, though it sometimes undermined the story. The same is pretty much true here but with significantly more disastrous results.

He never manages to recapture the heated emotion of the rape and revenge scenes of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo here as the entire film feels entirely too coldly emotionally detached to ever come close to adequately conveying the intensity for which the story called. Revenge stories don't work if they don't make the audience feel what its protagonists are going through so just on this level Dead Man Down is an utter failure.

To make matters worse though is that, like Dragon Tattoo, despite being relentlessly bleak and humourless, certain elements still feel horribly out of place – none more so than the film's climax, which effectively turns the film into a not very good action flick.

It's long, it's dreary and it fails completely to adequately capture its own story's emotional core and not even good intentions and a better cast can save Dead Man Down from almost instantaneous irrelevance in a genre that is far too overstuffed to forgive such a sin. It simply ain't good enough.

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