Dead Man Down feels like something Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional) would have directed back in the mid-’90s, though the look is more modernized with a polished sheen and a penchant for slow-mo explosions and blue filters, which cinematographer Paul Cameron (Man on a Ledge, Total Recall) seems to excel in as of late. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but director Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) does manage to cut the expository moments to a minimum, allowing the film to rise above what could have easily become a direct-to-video feature and turns it into something I don’t mind recommending you give a chance.
Written by “Fringe” writer J.H. Wyman, at its heart Dead Man Down is a revenge feature as Victor (Colin Farrell), a Hungarian immigrant, has devised a plan to get back at the crime lord (Terrence Howard) responsible for the death of his wife and daughter. Things become complicated once Victor crosses paths with Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), a neighbor whose interest in him is more than just neighborly.
Dead Man Down benefits from a two-layered cat and mouse game as well as the emotions brewing between Victor and Beatrice, which have their own complications which are dealt with implicitly rather than explicitly, at least to an extent where you feel the filmmakers respect your ability to put two-and-two together rather than feeling they need to map out the entire narrative arc. This isn’t to say this is a film operating on another level of storytelling, but simply those scenes of overwrought exposition that can often be found in a direct-to-video feature are absent here. It’s the reason I compared this film to the Besson films of the mid-’90s rather than those he’s producing today.
The film benefits from Farrell and Rapace in the lead roles. Neither do anything to wow you as much as they bring a level of competence to the feature rather than the overwrought, second-level talent a film such as this normally attracts.
Beatrice refers to Victor as a guy that doesn’t say much. “Good!” I say, he doesn’t need to say much and both Farrell and Rapace are actors that don’t need pages of dialogue to express what their characters are feeling. Yes, Victor’s lack of gab is a character trait, but its one more film characters should take on.
The film does bump into cliche at times, such as moments where we see Victor watching a home video of his wife and daughter at the park, but he isn’t a sobbing mess and he doesn’t immediately rush out to carry out some rash and ridiculous task afterward, sure to land him into trouble. Victor is a cool customer and while he isn’t a ninja in the shadows, unable to be captured until the screenplay calls for it, he’s a man with a plan and he’s largely sticking to it.
Dominic Cooper adds a level of humor and sense of humanity in a small, but pivotal role as a low level gangster and friend of Victor’s. F. Murray Abraham shows up for a bit of “fatherly” advice and even Isabelle Huppert is included as Beatrice’s French-speaking mother with a bit of a hearing problem. As far as the cast is concerned, this thing is stacked and while it carries an R rating, it doesn’t find glory in bloodshed as much as it uses violence when necessary and still never bathes its combatants in gore.
Overall, Dead Man Down is an even keel, competent movie with solid performances and a plot that unfolds more-or-less as you’d expect it to, but with enough turns in the narrative and character quirks to keep you invested throughout. Most will likely see this as a satisfying rental at home, but I don’t think you’d be sorry if you stepped out to the theater either. If I had only one major suggestion, it would be to cut the last scene from the film, it deservedly got a laugh from my screening audience and it’s not how this film deserves to go out.