DEAD MAN DOWN begins and ends in a blaze of gunfire. In between if focuses on the smoldering anguish of two people longing for revenge, and fighting their better natures in order to achieve it. Though rife with elements that will get it categorized as an action flick, this film aspires to be a psychological thriller as well, and it almost succeeds.
Revenge, as the saying goes, is a dish that is best served cold, and chilly is exactly what Niels Arden Oplevs’s film is. Famous for directing the Swedish version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, he brings the same darkness here. He also brings the actress he directed in that earlier film, Noomi Rapace. She’s Beatrice, a name that is ironic for translating as “blessed.” Beatrice is a girl with scars, inside and out, whose fierce desire to pay back the drunk driver who scarred her face and withered her soul has distilled itself into silent tears and a vicious plan. Fate, while destroying her face, has also placed within her grasp the very person she needs to help her. That would be Victor (Colin Farrell), a man whose business is using a gun in the service the shady dealings of his boss, Alphonse (Terrence Howard). But Victor is no ordinary thug, as evidenced by the way he vacuums his apartment, the which Beatrice notes from her apartment across the courtyard. Theirs is not a match made in heaven, but one that turns out to have a peculiar, symbiotic quality. As the film progresses, Victor and Beatrice are revealed as two damaged souls with more in common than they could have imagined.
As a character study, DEAD MAN DOWN is a lovely piece of work, revealing contradictions and quirks in the way the human psyche makes its peace with the world at large. It starts with a tender scene of parental devotion, and progresses though the quirkiness of Beatrice’s cookie-pushing mother (Isabelle Huppert), an iron fist in a velvet glove when it comes to getting her daughter back into the mainstream of life. As a thriller, it is a bit too leisurely for its own good. Despite a color palette that rarely rises above a whimper, the sense of tension or suspense involved in the deadly machinations involved is little in evidence, making the effect more hypothermia than invigorating. Farrell and Rapace, though, are excellent, going for subtlety instead of melodrama in a plot that is just a bit more complicated than it needs to be. The clues to their inner pain are all the more effective for being the stuff of silence and of the mundane. A meal eaten off a plate instead of its packaging, or putting on a white dress, become signs and signifiers of healing, if not of being healed.
DEAD MAN DOWN has style and mood to spare, but lacks the overwhelming emotional tug that would elevate it from an interesting film into one that is compelling.