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…

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

You can’t just outsource your entire life.

Tully (2018)
(SPOILERS) A major twist is revealed in the last fifteen minutes of Tully, one I'll happily admit not to have seen coming, but it says something about the movie that it failed to affect my misgivings over the picture up to that point either way. About the worst thing you can say about a twist is that it leaves you shrugging.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams.

Ridley Scott Ridders Ranked
During the '80s, I anticipated few filmmakers' movies more than Ridley Scott's; those of his fellow xenomorph wrangler James Cameron, perhaps. In both cases, that eagerness for something equalling their early efforts receded as they studiously managed to avoid the heights they had once reached. Cameron's output dropped off a cliff after he won an Oscar. Contrastingly, Scott's surged like never before when his film took home gold. Which at least meant he occasionally delivered something interesting, but sadly, it was mostly quantity over quality. Here are the movies Scott has directed in his career thus far - and with his rate of  productivity, another 25 by the time he's 100 may well be feasible – ranked from worst to best.

Well, you did take advantage of a drunken sailor.

Tomb Raider (2018)
(SPOILERS) There's evidently an appetite out there for a decent Tomb Raider movie, given that the lousy 2001 incarnation was successful enough to spawn a (lousy) sequel, and that this lousier reboot, scarcely conceivably, may have attracted enough bums on seats to do likewise. If we're going to distinguish between order of demerits, we could characterise the Angelina Jolie movies as both pretty bad; Tomb Raider, in contrast, is unforgivably tedious.

If you want to have a staring contest with me, you will lose.

Phantom Thread (2017)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps surprisingly not the lowest grossing of last year's Best Picture Oscar nominees (that was Call Me by Your Name) but certainly the one with the least buzz as a genuine contender, subjected as Phantom Thread was to a range of views from masterpiece (the critics) to drudge (a fair selection of general viewers). The mixed reaction wasn’t so very far from Paul Thomas Anderson's earlier The Master, and one suspects the nomination was more to do with the golden glow of Daniel Day-Lewis in his first role in half a decade (and last ever, if he's to be believed) than mass Academy rapture with the picture. Which is ironic, as the relatively unknown Vicky Krieps steals the film from under him.

This is it. This is the moment of my death.

Fearless (1993)
Hollywood tends to make a hash of any exploration of existential or spiritual themes. The urge towards the simplistic, the treacly or the mawkishly uplifting, without appropriate filtering or insight, usually overpowers even the best intentions. Rarely, a movie comes along that makes good on its potential and then, more than likely, it gets completely ignored. Such a fate befell Fearless, Peter Weir’s plane crash survivor-angst film, despite roundly positive critical notices. For some reason audiences were willing to see a rubgy team turn cannibal in Alive, but this was a turn-off? Yet invariably anyone who has seen Fearless speaks of it in glowing terms, and rightly so.

Weir’s pictures are often thematically rich, more anchored by narrative than those of, say, Terrence Malick but similarly preoccupied with big ideas and their expression. He has a rare grasp of poetry, symbolism and the mythic. Weir also displays an acute grasp of the subjective mind-set, and possesses …

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.

Dirty is exactly why you're here.

Sicario 2: Soldado aka Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018)
(SPOILERS) I wasn't among the multitude greeting the first Sicario with rapturous applause. It felt like a classic case of average material significantly lifted by the diligence of its director (and cinematographer and composer), but ultimately not all that. Any illusions that this gritty, violent, tale of cynicism and corruption – all generally signifiers of "realism" – in waging the War on Drugs had a degree of credibility well and truly went out the window when we learned that Benicio del Toro's character Alejandro Gillick wasn't just an unstoppable kickass ninja hitman; he was a grieving ex-lawyer turned unstoppable kickass ninja hitman. Sicario 2: Soldadograzes on further difficult-to-digest conceits, so in that respect is consistent, and – ironically – in some respects fares better than its predecessor through being more thoroughly genre-soaked and so avoiding the false doctrine of "revealing" …