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

Do you know that the leading cause of death for beavers is falling trees?

The Interpreter (2005) Sydney Pollack’s final film returns to the conspiracy genre that served him well in both the 1970s ( Three Days of the Condor ) and the 1990s ( The Firm ). It also marks a return to Africa, but in a decidedly less romantic fashion than his 1985 Oscar winner. Unfortunately the result is a tepid, clichéd affair in which only the technical flourishes of its director have any merit. The film’s main claim to fame is that Universal received permission to film inside the United Nations headquarters. Accordingly, Pollack is predictably unquestioning in its admiration and respect for the organisation. It is no doubt also the reason that liberal crusader Sean Penn attached himself to what is otherwise a highly generic and non-Penn type of role. When it comes down to it, the argument rehearsed here of diplomacy over violent resolution is as banal as they come. That the UN is infallible moral arbiter of this process is never in any doubt. The cynicism

Yeah, it’s just, why would we wannabe be X-Men?

The New Mutants (2020) (SPOILERS) I feel a little sorry for The New Mutants . It’s far from a great movie, but Josh Boone at least has a clear vision for that far-from-great movie. Its major problem is that it’s so overwhelmingly familiar and derivative. For an X-Men movie, it’s a different spin, but in all other respects it’s wearisomely old hat.

Now listen, I don’t give diddley shit about Jews and Nazis.

  The Boys from Brazil (1978) (SPOILERS) Nazis, Nazis everywhere! The Boys from Brazil has one distinct advantage over its fascist-antagonist predecessor Marathon Man ; it has no delusions that it is anything other than garish, crass pulp fiction. John Schlesinger attempted to dress his Dustin Hoffman-starrer up with an art-house veneer and in so doing succeeded in emphasising how ridiculous it was in the wrong way. On the other hand, Schlesinger at least brought a demonstrable skill set to the table. For all its faults, Marathon Man moves , and is highly entertaining. The Boys from Brazil is hampered by Franklin J Schaffner’s sluggish literalism. Where that was fine for an Oscar-strewn biopic ( Patton ), or keeping one foot on the ground with material that might easily have induced derision ( Planet of the Apes ), here the eccentric-but-catchy conceit ensures The Boys from Brazil veers unfavourably into the territory of farce played straight.

I can always tell the buttered side from the dry.

The Molly Maguires (1970) (SPOILERS) The undercover cop is a dramatic evergreen, but it typically finds him infiltrating a mob organisation ( Donnie Brasco , The Departed ). Which means that, whatever rumblings of snitch-iness, concomitant paranoia and feelings of betrayal there may be, the lines are nevertheless drawn quite clearly on the criminality front. The Molly Maguires at least ostensibly finds its protagonist infiltrating an Irish secret society out to bring justice for the workers. However, where violence is concerned, there’s rarely room for moral high ground. It’s an interesting picture, but one ultimately more enraptured by soaking in its grey-area stew than driven storytelling.

Never underestimate the wiles of a crooked European state.

The Mouse on the Moon (1963) (SPOILERS) Amiable sequel to an amiably underpowered original. And that, despite the presence of frequent powerhouse Peter Sellers in three roles. This time, he’s conspicuously absent and replaced actually or effectively by Margaret Rutherford, Ron Moody and Bernard Cribbins. All of whom are absolutely funny, but the real pep that makes The Mouse on the Moon an improvement on The Mouse that Roared is a frequently sharp-ish Michael Pertwee screenplay and a more energetic approach from director Richard Lester (making his feature debut-ish, if you choose to discount jazz festival performer parade It’s Trad, Dad! )

Dad's wearing a bunch of hotdogs.

White of the Eye (1987) (SPOILERS) It was with increasing irritation that I noted the extras for Arrow’s White of the Eye Blu-ray release continually returning to the idea that Nicolas Roeg somehow “stole” the career that was rightfully Donald Cammell’s through appropriating his stylistic innovations and taking all the credit for Performance . And that the arrival of White of the Eye , after Demon Seed was so compromised by meddlesome MGM, suddenly shone a light on Cammell as the true innovator behind Performance and indeed the inspiration for Roeg’s entire schtick. Neither assessment is at all fair. But then, I suspect those making these assertions are coming from the position that White of the Eye is a work of unrecognised genius. Which it is not. Distinctive, memorable, with flashes of brilliance, but also uneven in both production and performance. It’s very much a Cannon movie, for all that it’s a Cannon arthouse movie.

Yes, exactly so. I’m a humbug.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) (SPOILERS) There are undoubtedly some bullet-proof movies, such is their lauded reputation. The Wizard of Oz will remain a classic no matter how many people – and I’m sure they are legion – aren’t really all that fussed by it. I’m one of their number. I hadn’t given it my time in forty or more years – barring the odd clip – but with all the things I’ve heard suggested since, from MKUltra allusions to Pink Floyd timing The Dark Side of the Moon to it, to the Mandela Effect, I decided it was ripe for a reappraisal. Unfortunately, the experience proved less than revelatory in any way, shape or form. Although, it does suggest Sam Raimi might have been advised to add a few songs, a spot of camp and a scare or two, had he seriously wished to stand a chance of treading in venerated L Frank Baum cinematic territory with Oz the Great and Powerful.

So, crank open that hatch. Breathe some fresh air. Go. Live your life.

Love and Monsters (2020) (SPOILERS) If nothing else, Michael Matthews goes some way towards rehabilitating a title that seemed forever doomed to horrific associations with one of the worst Russell T Davies Doctor Who stories (and labelling it one of his worst is really saying something). Love and Monsters delivers that rarity, an upbeat apocalypse, so going against the prevailing trend of not only the movie genre but also real life.

It’s always open season on princesses!

Roman Holiday (1953) (SPOILERS) If only every Disney princess movie were this good. Of course, Roman Holiday lacks the prerequisite happily ever after. But then again, neither could it be said to end on an entirely downbeat note (that the mooted sequel never happened would be unthinkable today). William Wyler’s movie is hugely charming. Audrey Hepburn is utterly enchanting. The Rome scenery is perfectly romantic. And – now this is a surprise – Gregory Peck is really very likeable, managing to loosen up just enough that you root for these too and their unlikely canoodle.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.