Starring: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard
Directed by: Niels Arden Oplev (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”)
Written by: J.H. Wyman (“The Mexican”)
Revenge is a dish served cold and in most cases pretty immediate. If you’re watching a master at the genre like filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, there’s no beating around the bush when it comes to it. Death comes quickly when The Bride slices her way through ninja assassins in “Kill Bill” or the Bear Jew plays homerun derby with a Nazi’s head in “Inglourious Basterds.” But when revenge is carried out in a more meticulous manner, it only works if the narrative doesn’t follow suit and come to a screeching halt. “Dead Man Down” does just that. It’s a crackling fire that dies out fast.
Danish director Niels Adren Oplev has experimented with this slow-burn revenge concept before in the original “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Without giving too much of the plot away, his attempt at doing the same in his first American film is far less intriguing, especially when the revenge story is cobbled together in scenes riddled with messy dialogue and unbelievable plot devices used by screenwriter J.H. Wyman (“The Mexican,” TV’s “Fringe”).
In “Dead Man Down,” Colin Farrell stars as Victor, a low-grade criminal who has somehow infiltrated a gang led by a man (Terrence Howard) responsible for the death of his wife and daughter. As interesting – albeit familiar – a film as that might’ve been alone, Wyman decides to pile on more useless storylines by introducing us to Beatrice (Noomi Rapace, the original lead actress of “Dragon Tattoo” before Rooney Mara made it her own), a former beautician who wants her own revenge on the man who left her face scarred after a drunk driving crash. There’s not much inspiration behind Beatrice’s anger. She just wants the guy dead and exhibits this obsession in a weirdly psychotic way during a driving scene with Farrell that would make Cameron Diaz’s crazy car rant in “Vanilla Sky” feel like a gentle argument.
Whatever her character is supposed to be experiencing emotionally, Wyman doesn’t capture her tortured soul in the slightest way. Neither does he with Farrell’s Victor whose vengeful nature just seems like too much trouble when all is said and done. A bullet straight to the head would probably make more sense in this scenario. The nonexistent chemistry between Farrell and Rapace is also a problem. It’s vague in its delivery, but even when it becomes obvious, there’s not much time to do anything with the relationship. Nor is it logical for Victor to feel anything but disdain for Beatrice to begin with.
When the bullets do start flying in the last 15 minutes, “Dead Man Down” is already a lost cause. It retreats into a cliché shoot em’ up flick that has Hollywood written all over it. It’s unfortunate Oplev’s foray into the American film industry had to start with such a whimper, especially since he’s already proven with “Dragon Tattoo” that he has a very fascinating take on the darker side of drama.