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USA 2013
Directed by
Niels Arden Oplev
118 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Elaine Brennan O' Dwyer
2.5 stars

Dead Man Down

Synopsis: Victor (Colin Farrell) infiltrates a ruthless New York gang led by Alphonse (Terrence Howard) in order to get close enough to reap revenge on the mobsters who destroyed his family. When Victor’s neighbour Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) witnesses him killing a man she blackmails him to help her carry out her own act of retribution.

Dead Man Down is the first English-language feature by Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, the man who gave us the original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. This revenge thriller is set in New York but is not the Big Apple with which we are familiar but rather a gloomy underworld in which everyone is an outsider of sorts.

Victor is a Hungarian immigrant who came to America with dreams of success and happiness with his wife and daughter. Now, a few years later, he is cooped up in a dirty high-rise flat his only company a young woman who waves across from a building facing his. This woman is Beatrice, French by origin, living in a small apartment with her mother (Isabelle Huppert). She was once a beautician, until a serious car accident left her confidence shattered. Both Victor and Beatrice want revenge: Victor on the gang who killed his wife and daughter, Beatrice on the drunk-driver who left her physically and emotionally scarred.

It is easy to figure out the film’s ending from quite early on, but it is hard to guess the round-about way we will get there. The screenplay by J. H. Wyman is tonally confused. Thus, for example, in one scene Victor and Beatrice are enveloped in a tender, silent moment of passion shot like an art-house noir, in the next Victor is driving his car into a building shooting wildly as if in an action blockbuster.

After setting up the concerns of our principal characters an array of plot-holes become apparent, the most jarring of which is why Victor waits two years to get payback. He gains the trust of Alphonse, works alongside him every day but does not take the opportunity to settle the score with him. As the film progresses Victor sends the gang riddles and commits cruel but narratively insignificant acts in what feels like an unnecessarily intricate and protracted plot and the interest we have in his mission begins to peter out.

Some great performances shine through the folly of Dead Man Down. In spite of the clumsy script, Farrell and Rapace prove their commitment to their characters, the most impressive moments being those where nothing is spoken at all but with the pair communicating a magnetic chemistry with just their eyes. Isabelle Huppert brings grace to her role as Beatrice’s hard-of-hearing mother discreetly stealing each scene in which she appears.

Trying to cover too much at once, Dead Man Down manages to be nothing much at all. Oplev’s stylistically accomplished thriller is too bogged down with redundant plot lines, leaving a few enjoyable moments of romance and gun-yielding action in a generally messy and implausible film.




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