Originally published for The Alternative Chronicle
These first three months of this calendar year have seen no less than four foreign directors making their English language debut. We started out with Kim Jee-Woon‘s crazy-fun action flick, The Last Stand, then the idiotic and bland Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters by Norwegian Tommy Wirkola, and just last week Park Chan-Wook debuted in America with the phenomenal and disturbing Stoker (which our own Abe Rose reviewed recently). Now we have the director of the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Niels Arden Oplev trying his hand at making a film in America. I applaud the producers who are recognizing and bringing more exposure to visionary artists that the masses might easily write-off because they’d rather not read subtitles. However, it doesn’t always work out so great. Such is the case here with Dead Man Down.
Colin Farrell plays Victor, the right-hand man of a Boston crime lord Alphonse (Terrence Howard) who has been receiving ominous anonymous threats and puzzling clues. Years ago, Victor lost his family and he’s been using the gang to seek vengeance on the people responsible. He lives in an apartment building across the way from Beatrice (Noomi Rapace). She was hit by a drunk driver and now her face is horribly scarred. The man who hit her served only three weeks and returned to his nice life while her life is in shambles, and she wants revenge. One day, she sees Victor murder someone in his apartment and uses this knowledge as blackmail to make him kill the drunk driver. They get closer to each other as Victor gets closer to the people who hurt him, and Alphonse gets closer to identifying the source of the mysterious threats against his life.
Most of this happens in the first forty-five minutes or so of the film, and it’s not long after that every single card is laid out, leaving another hour and change for it all to play out. That’s way too much time. This could very easily have been at least twenty minutes shorter. As it is, the film feels incredibly sluggish and repetitious. It sometimes gets repetitive to the point of feeling like you’re experiencing déjà vu, and Rapace’s subplot gets dragged out until it ceases to be relevant entirely. Most annoying is that her character gets reduced to being the typical damsel in distress who needs the man to swoop in, guns blazing, and save her after she makes a stupid decision that gets them both in trouble. The film pretends (for a little while anyway) to be a study on vengeance and how maybe getting revenge won’t actually make you whole again and all those other cliches that we’ve seen done before but, in the end, this theme is largely glossed over in favor of a
rousing action climax.
But let’s try to be positive for a moment. The actors are good enough in this that you sometimes forget how slow it all is, but the plot doesn’t demand much from anybody. There are a few good plot turns that managed to hold my attention, and a couple sequences were exciting, but the best thing you can say about the directing is that it’s fairly competent. So much for positivity. I wish I could say something more about it because the film isn’t horrible, it just isn’t very good either.
I don’t wish failure upon Mr. Oplev, but unless this becomes insanely profitable (the weekend box office reports suggest that it won’t) I can’t see him getting another chance like this. It would be easy to put the blame on “Hollywood bigwigs” for sticking their fat fingers into Oplev’s business (which is not code for “rectum” despite how that sounds) but much of the blame really falls on Oplev as director as well as writer J.H. Wyman. Unfortunately, I believe Dead Man Down will go down as yet another film by a foreign director who tried to make it in America and failed.
P.S. — I still don’t know what the hell the title means.