Two Thumbs "Down"
Dead Man Down -- Dir. Niels Arden Oplev (FilmDistrict) -- 1 Stars
By the time the importance of returning borrowed Tupperware is discussed for the third time, it’s quite easy to forget that “Dead Man Down” is supposed to be an action thriller. The fact that “Dead” is director Niels Arden Oplev’s first American feature film is no excuse; after all, one would expect the mastermind behind the 2009 Swedish adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” to be an expert in this genre. However, Oplev is not solely to blame; rather, J.H. Wyman, who also created the recently finished FOX TV series “Fringe,” is at fault for coming up with a script that causes so much eye-rolling that one may wonder if “Dead” is intended to be a comedy. The action sequences and the screenplay of the film are both lackluster, and the unfortunate combination of the two ultimately weighs down much of the movie, making “Dead” an extremely unpleasant viewing experience.
Despite its moderately intriguing and suspenseful setup, “Dead” struggles with cheesy plot twists and ludicrous dialogue. Victor (Colin Farrell) is a brooding and introverted hitman in the midst of exacting revenge when he is confronted by his neighbor, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), who harbors a borderline obsessive crush on him. A woman with prominent scars on her face as a result of a drunk-driving accident, Beatrice eventually asks him out on what is unintentionally probably the most listless first date in movie history, filled with lifeless small talk comparable to a conversation in an online speed dating forum. However, the action finally picks up speed as Beatrice unexpectedly blackmails Victor to force him to murder the driver responsible for her agony.
From the very beginning, it seems extremely unlikely that the two will fall in love given the incredibly unromantic setup. The lack of chemistry between Farrell and Rapace also prevents the audience from believing their strained love story. It almost seems like Beatrice’s constant presence in Victor’s life is the sole reason that the moody henchman begins to fall for the very woman that blackmailed him only a couple of days earlier. Compounding this situation is dialogue so awkward that the only reaction it evokes is shuddering. With ridiculous lines like “I’ll just set this between the mustard and the plastic explosives,” spoken by Beatrice to Victor as she adoringly stocks his fridge for him, the preposterous writing makes it hard to take the film seriously.
Despite being highly stylized, the action sequences of “Dead” are as cheesy as the dialogue. Oplev misuses slow motion to create anticlimactic and overwrought shootouts and car chases that are reminiscent of cartoons. There almost seems to be a correlation in the movie between weapon size and temper: the bigger the gun, the angrier the attacker. In addition, Victor’s apparent invincibility to the bullets of the dozen henchmen he kills pulls the film from realism into fantasy. The unbelievability of the action scenes throughout the movie escalates to the point that by the end, the film seems farcical in its attempt to remain relatable to the audience.
The only thing stopping “Dead” from becoming just another mindless action movie is the strategic casting of Rapace. Having already worked with Rapace in “Dragon Tattoo,” Oplev understandably takes full advantage of this experience and thereby allows Rapace to outshine the rest of her cast by placing few distractions in each of her scenes. Beatrice appears wretched and sympathetic after she returns home from the hospital free of stitches, but full of shame and inner rage. Rapace expertly brings Beatrice to life and effectively conveys her character’s raw pain by portraying her with inward shoulders and fatigued expressions. Her performance is the one redeeming part of an otherwise terrible movie.
While supposedly both an action thriller and a love story, the movie fails to do either genre justice because of a poorly written and confusing script. If only the film focused on just one of these directions, perhaps it could have been an enjoyable experience, especially given the talents of Rapace. Instead, “Dead Man Down” amounts to nothing more than an exercise in vapidity and convolution.
—Staff writer Connie Yan can be reached at email@example.com.