Niels Arden Oplev's neo noir Dead Man Down is a cut above the usual revenge action fare with solid performances - Dead Man Down Review

Sunday, May 05, 2013 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

dead-man-down-reviewIs Dead Man Down a Nordic Noir influenced drama, or a slick action film? It's both - but I wish it wasn't. A couple of years ago I asked Noomi Rapace about the difference in styles between the two directors behind the adaptation of Stieg Larsson's  Millenium Trilogy, as part of her thoughts - she conveyed that it was sad that the original Director - Niels Arden Oplev didn't move forward with the sequels. I asked if she would work with him again - clearly a little surprised - she said "Yes, of course".

Well, with Dead Man Down Niels Arden Oplev the man behind the original Girl with The Dragon Tattoo reunites with Noomi Rapace for his first US feature film and the result leaves me happy they have.

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Dead Man Down Film Poster
When the body of a gang member is discovered in the freezer of crime boss Alphonse’s (Terrence Howard) mansion – a clear message has been sent… or has it?


The Establishing Shot: DEAD MAN DOWN TRAILER HD - 3 MAY 2013

As the gang reacts, members Darcy (Dominic Cooper) and Victor (Colin Farrell) take it upon themselves to dig further into who is after Alphonse. As a further complication to the gang, neighbour Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) discovers Victor has a dark secret and contracts him into a scheme to seek out her own vengeance. With the violence escalating Alphonse begins to suspect that revenge is closer than he thought.

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Dead Man Down Colin Farrell Assassin
Dead Man Down stars Colin Farrell (Total Recall, Seven Psychopaths), Noomi Rapace (PrometheusSherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows), Dominic Cooper (Devil’s Double) and Terrence Howard (Iron Man) and marks the American theatrical debut of director Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo).

Watching the trailer for Dead Man Down I wasn't too enamoured. The trailer, as slick as it is - gives away too much, and leaves little to surprise. Granted I can see Dead Man Down may be a tricky sell, so showing as much as possible in the trailer kind of hits all the denominators for for a wide audience, but I feel Dead Man Down deserves a bit more of a sophisticated pitch. It would have worked immeasurably better for me as a straight up drama with action added as a bonus rather than the action film with drama that it is being sold as. Which segways into the only issue I have with an otherwise outstanding crime drama.

The marrying up of drama with action didn't work for me. But it's not that simple as the highly improbable action scenes (with lots of gunplay and explosions) are technically brilliant, deftly handled and brilliantly shot, as the whole film is - but what Niels Arden Oplev excels at is crafting an outstanding neo noir drama and bringing exceptional performances out from his cast.

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Dead Man Down The Gang Luis Da Silva Jr, Dominic Cooper, Colin Farrell  & boss Terrence Howard
But the action scenes are so slick and implausible that they suck everything nearby into a blackhole of cliche, not only did it feel like the action brought the drama down, but it is like watching scenes from two different films cut together. If the action was toned down WWE Studios might have had an unequivocal 5 star drama on release - but I guess the return for action films is deemed considerably better than for solid dramas. In the interests of fairness I should mention my wife loved Dead Man Down and thought it was one of the best film she has seen this year.

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Dead Man Down Albanian Hostage & Colin Farrell
Apart from that Oplev brings an outstanding crime drama to the screen with an engaging tale with real weight to the revenge elements allowing Colin Farrell to bring gravitas to his performance to the aggrieved Victor. Oplev also brings European sensibilities to the feel and tone of Dead Man Down which brings an additional depth and texture to the story elevating it, due in no small part to Cinematographer Paul Cameron's exciting camera work and former Oplev colleague Jacob Groth's compelling score which is used to great minimalist  effect both as ambience and noticeably absent  when not - much like Hitchcock' use of light and shadow.

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Dead Man Down Colin Farrell in a graveyard

Another element that shines is Oplev's use of New York, his location work gives the scenery a life of its own and lets the story feel like it's happening in a vibrant city rather than just a backdrop or set that could be anywhere.

I have to say I think Colin Farrell has been getting a bit of a raw deal of late, clearly he is talented, but for some reason usually ends up with material that either doesn't play to his strengths or is the cinematic equivalent of bubble gum, during the first 3/4s of Dead Man Down I was thinking f*ck yea! Finally a film I can root for Colin Farrell and his talent (the final quarter is pretty much all gunfire and explosions). He is outstanding as Victor a wounded gangland enforcer and brings both depth and purpose to the role.

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Dead Man Down Noomi Rapace & Colin Farrell

It took me a little while to get into the chemistry between Farrell and Noomi Rapace's Beatrice, a beautician with her own baggage. But this has more to do with the intentional plot arc that takes you along with it as the weave of the story and the characters roll out.

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Dead Man Down Luis Da Silva Jr & Terrence Howard
Both Farrell and Rapace deliver solid performances as does Terrence Howard as a powerhouse crime boss Alphonse and Dominic Cooper stand out as ambitious gang soldier Darcy. I have to say it was a pleasure to see both Isabelle Huppert and F. Murray Abraham on screen in dramatic roles even though their appearances are too brief.

Dead Man Down is in cinemas from 3 May 2013
In New York City, a crime lord's right-hand man is seduced by a woman seeking retribution.

Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Writer: J.H. Wyman
Stars: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard


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