Movie Review: “Dead Man Down”

ImageWith all that attention focused on the original Swedish “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” very little of it seemed to have spilled over onto the director.

Was its success simply due to story and settings and Swedishness?

Maybe. “Dead Man Down,” a Hollywood production directed by Tattoo’s Niels Arden Oplev, is no ringing endorsement of his contributions to the “Tattoo” trilogy.

A weirdly eccentric character thriller, “Dead Man” boasts his original “Girl,” Noomi Rapace, playing a character almost as bizarre as Lisbeth Salendar, but unevenly so. It’s hard to decide which is worse, the sometimes manic, badly-scarred car crash survivor who wants revenge on the drunk who ruined her life, or the actress clumsily playing her.

Colin Farrell is Victor, a secretive low-level mob enforcer. Rapace is Beatrice, a French woman living with her quirky mom (the great Isabelle Huppert) in an apartment just across the way. Beatrice, scars and all, flirts with Victor, balcony to balcony. Then it’s cellphone to cellphone.

That’s followed by an awkward first date, all silences and non-sequiturs.

But darned if Beatrice doesn’t blurt out that she knows what Victor does, and that he’d better get her revenge for her, or she’ll rat him out to the cops.

The drunk driver “ruined my life! I have nothing! I AM nothing!”

And Victor, unlike any other mobster/hit man you’ve ever heard of, lets her get away with it. Maybe he’s got a soft spot for French women. Maybe he sees a connection to her, a connection that hints at his own motives for doing what he does.

The kingpin Victor and his pal Darcy (Dominic Cooper) work for keeps losing henchman, and getting messages – clues, snips of a photograph that will eventually tell him who is tormenting him and stalking him.

Since that mob boss is played by Terrence Howard, we’re pretty sure he’s going to break down in tears, at some point. Just how miscast the actor is in this part is obvious in a single scene with veteran character actor Armand Assante. THIS is how a mob boss carries himself and sounds.

F. Murray Abraham is Victor’s secret pal, a Hungarian who wants him to “Always kill the Devil when you find him.”

The somewhat confusing plot meanders toward a laughably predictable conclusion, but not before director and screenwriter try their hand at moments so random they don’t belong in the film, at flourishes so deft that they belong in a better movie. Victor has taken this other Albanian hoodlum hostage, stashing him in the hold of the rusting hulk of the luxury liner S.S. United States, the most striking throw-away movie set you will ever see.

Rapace is all over the place with her performance — needy, then self-assured, enraged, then in love. The always feral Farrell seems as dismayed by her as the rest of us.

Huppert, who played Madame Bovary in her prime, plays a character who is all hearing-aid jokes, innuendo and Tupperware talk, pulling out the photo album so that Victor can see Beatrice before her accident – “You can see she has good genes.”

The odd character turn, unusual location and burst of cleverly profane dialogue doesn’t rescue the muddle that is “Dead Man Down.” But considering its bloodlines, maybe it would make more sense in Swedish, with subtitles.


MPAA Rating: R for violence, language throughout and a scene of sexuality

Cast: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper, Isabelle Huppert

Credits: Directed Niels Arden Oplev, written by J.H. Wyman. A FilmDistrict release.

Running time: 1:50

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