Rating: 3 stars out of 5
When Danish director Niels Arden Oplev put his vision to the Swedish version of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, he had the world sitting up for its lurid scenes and tightly coiled pacing. Set in New York this time, ‘Dead Man Down’ mines the same dark tones as well as the acting prowess of Noomi Rapace, who was chillingly compelling as Lisbeth Salander in ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’.
The conspiracy starts with crime honcho Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard, nothing more than despicable) finding one of his men stone cold and stuffed into a freezer. Suspecting someone is messing with him, he makes his henchmen, including protagonist Victor (Colin Farrell, broody as usual), find the perpetrator. Eventually – but none too quickly - we learn that Victor is really Hungarian widower Lazlo Hendrick, who has planted himself in the syndicate to deliver elaborate revenge against Hoyt for killing his wife and daughter.
Things get more complicated when he gets drawn to the mysterious Beatrice, who stays with her hearing-impaired mother (Isabelle Huppert) in the building across his apartment. Turns out Beatrice has taped him strangling someone and has an agenda of her own – bitter and enraged after a car accident that left half her face scarred, she wants Victor to kill the man responsible in exchange for her silence.
The rest of the film is like a candle burning from two ends. Victor tries to keep up his façade and complete his painstaking plan as the baddies zero in on his real identity. Action junkies will find plenty of sweet spots throughout, including a fast-paced shoot-out set to dubstep and a cat-and-mouse hunt through an apartment building.
Meanwhile, Beatrice becomes a pillar of support for Victor and their faltering romance becomes one of the most enjoyable bits of the film. While it is hard to buy the way he gets her tangled into his plans at first, the bond between them is so strong that this fault can be brushed aside. The script plays out their opposing forces – Victor cool and withdrawn, Beatrice hotheaded and feisty – so that they soothe each other’s tortured souls. Beatrice’s blissfully oblivious mother steps in to play matchmaker now and then, and Huppert’s sweet natured portrayal of her is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise murky film.
Less fixating is the way Oplev and writer J. H Wyman dance around the film’s main threads. By the halfway mark, ‘Dead Man Down’ still feeds the audience little clues about why Victor is giving Hoyt hell rather than getting to the point. That said, it can be a bit confounding how the gang does not piece everything together sooner or catch him during several unbelievably close calls. Once everything is finally explained, the final fiery showdown unrolls somewhat abruptly.
Uneven pacing and stiff turns stop ‘Dead Man Down’ from being a truly gripping thriller, which will be disappointing for those who lapped up ‘Girl with a Dragon Tattoo’.
Nevertheless, Oplev has made a decent dip into Hollywood by piecing together an action-packed trip with a hint of tenderness.