Dead Man Down: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

by Ethan Alter March 8, 2013 6:11 am
<i>Dead Man Down</i>: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Colin Farrell may possess a questionable taste in material, but he's generally aces when it comes to picking directors to work with. Just look at some of the names he's managed to rack up during the course of his decade-long stint in movie stardom: Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann, Oliver Stone, Woody Allen, Neil Jordan, Terry Gilliam, Robert Towne and Terrence freakin' Malick. Granted, not all of these films turned out for the best, but that's an impressive collection of filmmakers to have on anyone's résumé. (Of course, there are a few Joel Schumachers and Len Wisemans in the bunch, but everyone makes mistakes now and then.) In addition to A-list directors, Farrell has teamed up with some promising up-and-comers, whether it's Martin McDonagh (who cast him in both In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths), John Crowley (who made the underrated 2003 crime comedy, Intermission) or, now, Niels Arden Oplev, a Danish director making his American feature debut with Dead Man Down, a solid, eminently watchable thriller that has the misfortune of going up against Oz the Great and Powerful this weekend.

Oplev isn't technically a novice, of course. He's bounced back and forth between film and television in his native country since the mid-'90s. But his career kicked into high gear when he turned the literary phenomenon The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo into a feature film in 2009 and watched it become an international hit, even in subtitle-adverse America. (The success of Oplev's Dragon Tattoo is one of the reasons commonly cited for the less-than-spectacular gross of David Fincher's American remake, which arrived three years later.) Soon, he made the leap across the Atlantic to direct American television (he's current helming the pilot of the CBS summer series Under the Dome) and this revenge-minded big-screen thriller, which pairs Farrell with Oplev's Dragon Tattoo star, Noomi Rapace.

Penned by Fringe scribe J.H. Wyman, the movie begins in romantic drama territory, with Farrell's mob enforcer Victor catching the eye of Beatrice (Rapace), the striking woman who lives in the apartment across the way from his own high-rise pad. The two go out on a date, whereupon some new backstory comes to light. Turns out that Beatrice was in a bad car accident not too long ago and while she walked away with severe facial scars, the other driver got a slap on the wrist from the law. Not only that, but she's been watching Victor long before he noticed her and, in fact, witnessed him killing someone in his apartment, even capturing the murder on tape. Her plan is to blackmail him into offing the man who ruined her life. What she didn't count on, however, is that Victor also has a dark secret in his past, one that trumps hers by a wide margin. Two years ago, his wife and daughter were murdered by the very gangster (Terrence Howard) he now works for -- under an assumed identity, of course -- and intends to kill. The last thing he needs in his overly complicated life is a new distraction, but Victor can't deny his attraction to Beatrice and vice versa. It's a classic "Beauty and the Beast" scenario, only in this case, the beast is the one with emotional -- rather than physical -- deformities.

It's a ridiculous premise, of course, but Dead Man Down is one of those movies that keeps you engaged throughout, even though it never achieves full lift-off. Kudos to Farrell and Rapace for playing their roles with far more conviction than is present in Wyman's lumpy script and to Oplev for recognizing that this is, at heart, a melodrama cloaked in action movie clothing. The shoot-outs and close escapes (all of which are well-filmed, by the way) are just window dressing for the story of two damaged souls who could find a new lease on life with each other, but keep denying themselves that opportunity at every turn. And just like many traditional melodramas, Dead Man Down is always one emotionally heightened step away from becoming an all-out comedy. It's certainly laughable, for example, that we're asked to accept that the obviously lovely Rapace has somehow been rendered hideous to the world due to some light facial scarring. (Clearly, her make-up was designed by the same team that designed the non-beastly beast for The CW's awful Beauty and the Beast serial.) But the actress sells it, just as Farrell sells his "man of few words and puppy dog eyes" routine. Based on Dead Man Down, Oplev probably won't be the next Spielberg or Mann, but he does have the stuff to be the next B-movie journeyman like George Cosmatos and Pierre Morel -- the guy who makes action flicks that play great on cable.

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