Film Review: Dead Man Down

bill bodkin brings out the dead…

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Plot: Victor (Colin Farrell) is systematically dismantling the crime syndicate he works for from within in order to exact his revenge on his boss Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard) — the man who years before had Victor’s wife and child murdered. Victor’s life is turned upside down when his neighbor Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) forces him into carrying out her mission of vengeance on the man who left her permanently injured from a drunk driving accident.

Dead Man Down is a film that benefits from having a seasoned director and a strong cast. Now this might sound like a complete Captain Obvious statement, but in the hands of lesser talent, Dead Man Down would be the stuff of straight-to-DVD fodder that would eventually end up airing after the latest Skinemax film at 4 A.M. on a Friday night.

Colin Farrell, believe it or not, is the main reason DMD works. A decade ago saying Colin Farrell was the best part of the film would an offense punishable by death, but the Irish rogue has done a complete 180 from his days as Alexander the Great. He gives the one-note, hellbent on revenge Victor, a lot of soul and a lot of it is done through his eyes. Oh yes, those Irish eyes that are tough at hiding emotion betray the stone cold Victor, especially in the presence of his new friend/love interest Beatrice. Throughout the film you can just tell Victor’s aching to open up about his life, his loss — he wants to stop living the lie and just re-enter society, but his vengeance holds him back. And he conveyed this all through his eyes and body language.

We’d be remiss in mentioning that his lack of dialogue may rub fans of his comeback tour the wrong way. Farrell has been his best when he’s his most neurotic and verbose especially in the Martin McDonagh films Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges. And it’s a valid argument, because if Victor were allowed to be a little more Colin Farrell-esque — talkative, sarcastic and intelligent, the film might’ve been that much better.

Opposite Farrell throughout the film is the dynamite Swede, Noomi Rapace. Rapace is stuck in a very thankless role — playing a woman hellbent on revenge. It’s thankless because the role doesn’t make a ton of sense. She’s got facial scarring and some nerve damage from a drunk driving accident she was involved in, is unmercifully teased as a “monster” by neighborhood kids and is supposedly never going to re-enter her field as a beautician because of her deformities. So … why doesn’t she just take the guy who hit her to civil court and sue him for all he’s worth? Makes a lot more sense than asking your neighbor, who you saw kill a dude in his apartment, to exact revenge for you. Also, for someone everyone calls a “monster”, she actually looks fine and she even gets her old job back.

Rapace’s character really makes no sense whatsoever. Luckily, Rapace’s acting chops not only save the character from absurdity but also make it a much richer character. Rapace gives Beatrice an unexpected spunk and fire — she inserts herself into Victor’s revenge plot, she challenges his motives and end game, but in a sincere and emotional way. In what could’ve been a cardboard cut-out role, Rapace breathes life into it and makes you forgive and forget the absolute ridiculousness of her character’s backstory.

The direction of Dead Man Down keeps the film’s weaknesses (an underdeveloped plot, poorly written characters), in the background. It bristles along, never letting the pace die down, and it actually has a nice subplot (involving Dominic Cooper’s mob underling who slowly uncovers Victor’s scheme) that keeps tensions high. The action sequences are exciting fare and luckily are never given the Jason Statham over-the-top army of one treatment. Everything is tight, logical and within the scope of what our hero, Victor can do.

Dead Man Down is a film many will overlook because, from the trailers, it seems like nothing more than a run-of-the-mill shoot ’em up that’s trying to make Colin Farrell into the next Statham-esque action star. A word of advice — forget the trailer, sit down with this film and enjoy a solid action noir that’s filled with strong performances and some really thrilling action sequences.

Bill Bodkin is the owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites