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Film review: Dead Man Down

by Dan Jordan

Age certification: 15

Writer: JH Wyman

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Genre: Crime, Action, Thriller

Starring: Colin Farrel, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper

Stars ** 1/2

The brute simplicity of revenge appeals to an almost prehistoric part of the human psyche. A harsh, eye for an eye action that visits the pain you feel on those who caused it. Making films on revenge are just as simple, as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s entire career proves. The goodie kills the baddie and all his henchmen without hesitation and all is well with the world. Dead Man Down valiantly attempts to problematize this simplicity with a more naturalistic division of conscience within its hero, but sadly buckles under the weight of its own ambition.

Victor (Colin Farrel) has spent months undercover within the ranks of the drug gang that murdered his family. Eventually setting his plan for payback against Alphonse (Terrence Howard) and his crew in motion, he is discovered murdering one of the gang by his neighbour, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace). Beatrice then blackmails Victor into promising to murder the man who ruined her face in a car crash who went unpunished by the law. As the shared vendettas of the two bring them closer together, their conviction in enacting their vengeance begins to wane at a time when neither can walk away from the plans they’ve laid in place.

It’s as if the very aim of the Dead Man Down hinders it from the beginning. In trying to escape tired convention, it is completely lost .The first act is utterly desperate and horribly structured which almost ends the endeavour before it starts due to unengaging, wall-to-wall dullness. Also being faced with the daunting world of non-standard, non-cliché ridden storytelling, it desperately tries to anchor itself in established crime thriller stylishness or grit, never spending long enough trying to get its footing in one before switching back to the other. Later on, though, this desperation is retrieved in mirroring Victor’s division of purpose about his plot and factored in to the pleasantly jarring and sporadic tonal shifts in scenes between him and Beatrice. This gives the film a tentative balance.

Just as it reaches the halfway point and Victor and Beatrice begin to see hope that they can live their lives without needing revenge, the viewing audience loses hope with Dead Man Down as a whole. As soon as its balance of tone is evened out, the plot essentially stops, resulting in lots of dead air time that breaks the tension it was slowly developing. Without this tension, the heavily contrived climax is unbearable enough to not even be disappointing when it devolves into a brainless explosion and shoot-‘em-up scenario. While the revenge storyline is wrapped up in an interesting way, it cannot forgive the fact that the film just stopped trying when faced with its own potential.

While too slowly paced and boring for action film fans, those with a passing interest in moral philosophy or entry level character complexity have something to gain from Dead Man Down. Otherwise, we are left with a wasted effort of a film that is too timid to warrant a vendetta against it.

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