An Irishman playing an Hungarian, an Englishman playing an American and a Swede playing a Frenchmen all stroll onto a film set. They then proceed to look sombre for two hours whilst exchanging gunfire with some Americans playing Americans. Dead Man Down (2013), the first American production by Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev (helmer of the original Millennium trilogy), is an overly serious, but watchable film. Colin Farrell stars as Hungarian immigrant Victor, who works for mob boss Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard) while secretly planning his own revenge for a brutal past midemeanor.
Also on Alphonse’s crew is Darcy (Dominic Cooper), who takes it upon himself to discover who is sending his friend a series of creepy, cryptic messages. Meanwhile, the accident-scarred Beatrice (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo star Noomi Rapace) blackmails Victor to carry out her own revenge plot. Dead Man Down belongs to the always-extant sub-genre of New York crime films. Oplev shows us that same old NYC made almost entirely of skyscrapers and rundown docklands, yellow taxi cabs and working-class immigrants. This twisting tale of betrayal and vengeance does manage to spring a couple of mild surprises, but emotionally the film is transparent, presenting its mechanisms clearly for all to see.
The real problem with Dead Man Down is not the well-trodden ground it works on, nor is it the strange mix of European actors playing different European accents. The film is unhurried to the point of becoming arduous, and drags towards soporific in the middle. Victor and Beatrice’s alliance entails several scenes of the two of them explaining their past traumas in great detail. Dead Man Down wallows in backstory and exposition, insisting on giving the audience every last detail to every last plot point and beyond. Nothing is left to the imagination; everything is wrung for information to the point of absurdity.
Farrell is always best used in roles that demand energy and spark, and both of these attributes are sorely missed from Victor. Reticence and seriousness are the order of the day for our protagonist, and neither the improbably-cheekboned Rapace’s illuminating presence or Cooper’s dynamism can do much to leaven the dour mood of the film. Dead Man Down is a grim, serious film for adults, with a commendable commitment to taking on the crime genre without talking down to it. It’s just a shame that the whole thing is so crushingly dull.