Dead Man Down: Film Review

Dead Man Down one sheet - P 2013
Tarantino meets Hitchcock in Niels Arden Oplev’s smartly cast if uninspired American debut.

Danish director Niels Arden Oplev reunites with his "Dragon Tattoo" star Noomi Rapace for this New York-set neo-noir thriller.

For his American film debut, Danish director Niels Arden Oplev and his original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo star Noomi Rapace have relocated to the mean streets of New York for a vengeance-driven, neo-noir crime thriller.

More of a character-etched mood piece than a tautly calibrated caper, Dead Man Down benefits from potent visuals and a compelling international cast that also includes lead Colin Farrell, Terrence Howard and Isabelle Huppert.

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Although the insular script by J.H. Wyman (The Mexican) occasionally can be hard to follow, Oplev/Rapace’s rabid fan base should take the bait nevertheless, providing this FilmDistrict release with a respectable take.

Farrell, in a quiet, mournful performance that relies on minimal dialogue, is Victor, an enforcer who has been working his way up the ranks of Howard’s crime empire while concurrently plotting revenge against the ruthless kingpin for the death of his wife and young daughter years earlier.

Turns out some of his clandestine activities have been observed by the equally enigmatic Beatrice (Rapace), a neighbor living in the apartment across from his, with her own personal cause for retribution.

Her face deeply scarred after being hit by a drunken driver, Beatrice makes Victor an offer that’s very hard for him to refuse.

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It’s easy to see why Oplev was attracted to this violence-tinged story of two damaged souls set against a classic New York gangland backdrop. He effectively mines plenty of atmosphere from the grimy Lower East Side terrain while playing tribute to various thematic influences ranging from Rear Window to True Romance.

But Wyman’s script and the measured pace don’t lend themselves to the necessary escalating tension that would have resulted in a more rewarding climax.

That crack cast still keeps things involving, especially Rapace’s emotionally and physically disfigured Beatrice -- who, ironically, worked as a cosmetician before her accident. Even more satisfying than her increasingly tender scenes with Farrell are her diverting ones with Huppert, who plays her protective mother (!) with a playful joie de vivre.

Behind the scenes, cinematographer Paul Cameron (Collateral, Man on Fire) captures the requisite visual grit, while composer Jacob Groth, who scored The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels, creates an evocative, brooding soundscape.