Friday, 31 May 2013

Dead Man Down (2013)

Dead Man Down is a noir film, a revenge flick, a romance, or a romantic comedy depending on which character you ask

It’s a rite of passage for international directors who have made a name for themselves to helm a genre film in Hollywood for the next act of their career. Niels Arden Oplev, having made the original Millennium trilogy, embarks on a journey lit with the hopes, ambitions, and carcasses of many directorial careers with the crime film Dead Man Down.

The gimmick (and there are several abound in this film!) is Terence Howard plays a real estate kingpin who finds himself on a hit list, is constantly reminded by his unknown tormentor that he’s on a hit list. He inhabits a universe that has suddenly turned sour, populated by underlings, colleagues, associates and bosses who could well be plotting for his head because the universal code between thieves that has suddenly been abandoned. Can he solve the mystery before he gets a knife in his back? For his character, this is a sort of a noir film.

The twist is Terence Howard’s kingpin isn’t the main character. It’s the kingpin’s lieutenant, played by Colin Farrell, who is the secret tormentor driven by a thirst for exquisite, bloody, and totally justifiable revenge. Can he exact revenge before his best friend in the mob outfit solves the mystery? For his character and the audience, this is a noir film turned inside out and more of a revenge flick.

But that’s not what this film is solely about. One imagines Oplev as a fan of noir films where amidst the crime story, our small time mobster protagonist still has time for a developing romance with a gorgeous but emotionally damaged leading lady because Finding True Love will dull his edge and put him in mortal danger. Oplev draws not on Le Samourai but more from 1980s Hong Kong neo-noirs like The Killer. Instead of a horrifically blinded Sally Yeh, we have a physically scarred Noomi Rapace who is a witness to a murder Farrell’s gangster commits just before the film begins. The twist here is she turns out to be a kindred spirit also out for her own brand of revenge.

With so many plots proceeding at their own pace and so many characters doing their own thing simultaneously, the film’s 2 hour runtime is hardly a sign of self indulgence. One suspects studio interference and power struggles with the scriptwriter (not an uncommon thing with a foreign director’s first US feature) contributing to a sense of uneven pacing and misplaced emphases. That said, it’s still clear by the final reel that Oplev, Farrell, and Rapace have delivered a great film.

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