Skip to main content

Always kill the devil quickly when you find him.


Dead Man Down
(2013)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo's Niels Arden Oplev must really like pulp fiction. He takes something as lurid and preposterous as Stieg Larsson’s novel and treats the characters and story as with tasteful restraint. Such respectfulness encourages the viewer to treat it in kind, even if instinctively it’s clear that this is all rather trashy. Dead Man Down is the kind of material that could easily have been washed up as straight-to-video fare with a Statham or a Lundgren. It’s a less than subtle script that he chooses for his first English language film but Oplev maintains a sombre, reflective tone and so makes the somewhat absurd plot more palatable. If it’s not immediately obvious why he would be attracted to it, maybe it’s  the opportunity, as with Lisbeth Salander, to achieve emotional resonance where there would usually be none.


J.H. Wyman’s screenplay pulls off some neat misdirection. In particular, the first 20 minutes set the tale moving without clear bearings; it’s actually a pleasant change not to have the rhyme and reason of the characters spelt out instantly. Elsewhere, there’s little to remind one of the sterling work he turned in throughout the recently ended TV series Fringe. Perhaps a science fiction canvas allowed such excesses to seem less glaring, because no one’s going to admit that the scenario he has come up with here is very likely. Victor, Colin Farrell’s Hungarian engineer, is out for revenge against Alphonse, Terrence Howard’s crime boss. To that end, he has inveigled himself into Alphonse’s organisation. His long game takes an unexpected turn when Beatrice, Noomi Rapace’s scarred beautician, reveals evidence of him murdering an associate in his apartment. If he doesn’t kill the man who left her disfigured, she will turn it in to the police. With Beatrice breaching his defences and his criminal associates getting closer to discovering the identity of whoever is preying on them, Victor finds himself in an increasingly desperate situation.


Farrell is buttoned down, his usual expressiveness suppressed beneath an immovable mask. He's rather good, as he usually is when he's not in a blockbuster. If Rapace doesn't quite connect, it’s in part because her character is not allowed the desperation and misery she really needs to contemplate such measures. And she's not nearly uglified enough to make the insults of "Monster!" plausible. There’s also strong support from Terence Howard, Dominic Cooper, Armand Assante and the always magnificent but ever-underused F Murray Abraham.


Victor's revenge plan is too intricate to be really likely to succeed, but Oplev ensures that it plays out suspensefully (there’s an excellent, tension-filled conversation piece between Victor and Alphonse in an empty office) until we reach a ridiculously overblown climax (of all the possible outcomes I envisaged, this one was very nearly the last). Which is good fun but seems like it muscled its way in from an entirely different movie.


Paul Cameron’s cinematography evokes a rich grey melancholy.  The overcast gloom and creeping darkness is a character in itself, there’s a kind of beautiful despair to the imagery, lending a feeling that none of this can end well. I can only think that producer Neal Moritz offered the directing gig to Oplev by mistake, since this couldn’t be more different in tone to his usual fare (well, until the finale). This is the guy behind the Fast & Furious franchise and I suspect he was envisaging something slicker, punchier and less introspective. Dead Man Down (terrible title, but fitting the sort of film this might have been) is ultimately let down by being very goofy, but the clash of styles ensures you’re never quite sure how this one will pan out until it’s too late.

*** 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.

Never mind. You may be losing a carriage, but he’ll be gaining a bomb.

The Avengers 5.13: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station
Continuing a strong mid-season run, Brian Clemens rejigs one of the dissenting (and departing) Roger Marshall's scripts (hence "Brian Sheriff") and follows in the steps of the previous season's The Girl from Auntie by adding a topical-twist title (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum came out a year earlier). If this is one of those stories where you know from the first who's doing what to whom, the actual mechanism for the doing is a strong and engaging one, and it's pepped considerably by a supporting cast including one John Laurie (2.11: Death of a Great Dane, 3.2: Brief for Murder).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

That living fossil ate my best friend!

The Meg (2018)
(SPOILERS) There’s a good chance that, unless you go in armed with ludicrously high expectations for the degree to which it's going to take the piss out of its premise, you'll have a good time with The Meg. This is unabashedly B-moviemaking, and if a finger of fault can be pointed, it's that director Jon Turteltaub, besides being a strictly functional filmmaker, does nothing to give it any personality beyond employing the services of the Stat. Obviously, though, the mere presence of the gravelly-larynxed one goes a long way to plugging the holes in any leaky vessel.

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
(SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison.

Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War, Infinity Wars I & II, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions (Iron Man II), but there are points in Age of Ultron where it becomes distractingly so. …

You just threw a donut in the hot zone!

Den of Thieves (2018)
(SPOILERS) I'd heard this was a shameless Heat rip-off, and the presence of Gerard Butler seemed to confirm it would be passable-at-best B-heist hokum, so maybe it was just middling expectations, even having heard how enthused certain pockets of the Internet were, but Den of Thieves is a surprisingly very satisfying entry in the genre. I can't even fault it for attempting to Keyser Soze the whole shebang at the last moment – add a head in a box and you have three 1995 classics in one movie – even if that particular conceit doesn’t quite come together.