Before it devolves into typical American-style action, there’s an intriguing, European-style complexity to Dead Man Down. This does not always translate into a successful action thriller, but the first English-language film from Sweden’s Niels Arden Oplev is preoccupied with the ways revenge warps good people.
Colin Farrell is Victor, a quiet, watchful thug working for New York underworld boss Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard). Alphonse’s crew is being hunted by a mysterious predator whose calling card is bits of a photograph he mails them piece by piece.
Victor, we quickly learn, is behind the killings. He’s seeking revenge for the loss of his family at Alphonse’s order, and this elaborate plan to attack the organisation from within is years in the making.
Yet as he’s approaching his end game, he meets Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), a neighbour who has her own agenda. Having seen Victor strangle a man, she blackmails him to do the same to the guy responsible for the car accident that disfigured her.
Rapace, who starred as Lisbeth Salander in Oplev’s Swedish version of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, plays Beatrice as a haunted beauty convinced she’s a beast. Living with her mother (a twitchy Isabelle Huppert), Beatrice’s plan for vengeance is as reckless as Victor’s is detailed.
There’s a lot to roll your eyes over in Dead Man Down. The split-level story makes for convoluted red herrings and questions. Is Victor a cop? Is his pal in Alphonse’s gang aware of the plan? What’s the Hungarian connection – or the Albanian one?
And many such questions take only a second to become preposterous: Where did Victor get his CIA-level surveillance equipment? How did he become a trusted thug in a very tight gang?
Don’t look for clues in Farrell’s performance. This often undervalued actor is good, but as stoic as a statue. That does add to the intrigue inside Dead Man Down, and Oplev keeps things oblique enough to draw us in.
The mercenary-like romance between Victor and Beatrice is deliberately one-sided, and is often put on hold for scene-stealing from good actors, including Howard, Huppert, the chameleonic Dominic Cooper and F. Murray Abraham.
Rapace, meanwhile, is a show of force, as she was in last year’s Prometheus. Beatrice implores Victor to kill for her in one moment that’s filled with a sad rage that’s hard to imagine coming from many a cookie-cutter leading lady. She’s on a mission – one more compelling than what the plot focuses on – and in spite of this morally dark film’s goofily smash-bang ending, Rapace keeps Dead Man from being dragged down. (NY Daily News)