LITTLE ROCK Screenwriter J.H. Wyman is probably best known for being the show runner behind the TV series Fringe. For that show he had the option of running detailed, interlocking story threads that could run for several hours.
With his new movie, Dead Man Down, he doesn’t have the option of picking up loose threads for another episode. Once an idea gets dropped on the big screen, it’s difficult to pick it up again, and without a paranormal theme running through this film, implausibilities are tougher to excuse.
Wyman and Danish director Niels Arden Oplev (the original Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) get things off to a great start. A ruthless crime lord named Alphonse (played with effectively low-key menace by Terrence Howard) discovers that an unknown rival has put the body of one of his own capos into the freezer in his basement.
The killer sends fragments of pictures and cryptic notes with the corpse, essentially toying with Alphonse. Not only does this guy know where the boss lives and how he operates, but he wants to make sure that Alphonse sweats it.
To investigate the matter, he assigns the taciturn Victor (Colin Farrell) and the motor mouthed Darcy (Dominic Cooper) to the case. Darcy has a family and sees the Mob as a way to provide, whereas Victor tries and frequently succeeds in making as little impression as possible.
Because he’s played by the always watchable Farrell, Victor is still sure to get noticed for his lethal activities. A shy neighbor named Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) lures the reclusive Victor into what looks like a date and then reveals that she has photographed him killing a fellow wiseguy. Beatrice hasn’t gone to the cops because she wants Victor to kill a yuppie who caused a drunk driving accident that has scarred her face. The injury has put a damper on her career as a beautician, and neighborhood kids torment her by calling her “The Monster.” Who would be better to ensure her revenge than somebody like Victor, who murders people for a living?
Wyman’s setup has loads of dramatic possibilities, but there are so many loose ends that prevent the story from moving or coming together. The attempted romance between Victor and Beatrice feels undercooked, especially with two thespians who are over qualified to be in a garden-variety action flick.
It is intriguing to see Rapace, who starred in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, decked out in more flattering outfits than she wore in the previous film, and she somehow manages to look attractive despite the fake scars. Her terrific turn as Lisbeth Salander wasn’t a fluke.
Most of the performers seem above the material. F. Murray Abraham is fine as a good fella, but he’s better used when he narrates PBS documentaries. The same could be said for French legend Isabelle Huppert, who as Beatrice’s mom does little more than bake cookies.
Oplev manages some interesting visuals and a spectacular ending that might have been believable if it had been a little more low-key. Even SEAL teams don’t inflict the damage Farrell does here.
Because most of the film has a grim, gritty tone, moments like these seem a little more silly than thrilling.
Dead Man Down 71 Cast: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper, Isabelle Huppert, F. Murray Abraham, Luis Da Silva Jr., Stu Bennett, Armand Assante Director: Niels Arden Oplev Rating: R, for violence, language throughout and a scene of sexuality Running time: 110 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 38 on 03/08/2013
Print Headline: Dead Man Down