Having picked up the 2008 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar with The Counterfeiters, Austrian filmmaker Stefan Ruzowitzky now makes his English-language debut with Deadfall (2012). Penned by screenwriter Zach Dean, this neo-noir thriller heads onto DVD and Blu-ray under the radar, despite its star-studded cast. Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde play Addison and Liza, devoted siblings on the run after a successful casino heist. When a car accident leaves their driver dead, the pair decide to split up and make a run for the Canadian border in the middle of a blizzard – a stylishly-shot opening sequence that immediately gets you hooked.
Once things settle down, however, it becomes clear that the principal theme at work in Deadfall is that of dysfunctional family relationships. In addition to the Addison and Liza plot-line, Dean’s screenplay also explores two other strained familial bonds, and the newcomer does a good job of intertwining the different plot threads, coincidental though it may be. One such subplot centres on Jay (Charlie Hunnam), an ex-boxer fresh out of prison and already on the wrong side of the law. He has a difficult relationship with his mother June (Sissy Spacek) and unforgiving father Chet (Kris Kristofferson) for reasons that don’t become clear until the final act. En route to his parents’ house for thanksgiving dinner, he crosses paths with Liza.
With only a 94-minute runtime, there is a hurried feel to their relationship, and though it’s feasible that they might end up together at some point, the narrative dictates they fall for each other in double quick time. Still, there is certainly chemistry there between the couple, and because of it the exploration of Liza’s brother-sister bond with Addison has added resonance when things come to a head in the final act. Addison is by far the most interesting and complex character of the piece, and Bana also turns in a show-stopping performance.
Ruzowitzky’s latest comes alive when Bana is on screen – Addison is one of the most likeable bad guys in recent memory – and the suitably intense final third in which all the interconnected families collide sees him at his unpredictable best. However, although much of the drama is well-executed, the fugitive aspect of the plot is hopelessly devoid of tension, with a well-executed snowmobile chase through the woods about as exciting as it gets. Although there are a few missteps along the way, Deadfall starts and finishes strongly, and at its best it’s an entertaining thriller that’s worth seeking out.