out of Five
Running time: 118
Weirdly off-kilter revenge thriller that's laughably terrible in places, but scrapes a pass thanks to offbeat performances and a couple of enjoyably preposterous action sequences.
What's it all about?
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, Dead Man Down stars Colin Farrell as New York gangster Victor, who's helping fellow hoodlum Darcy (Dominic Cooper) track down a mysterious figure who's been targeting their boss, Alphonse (Terrence Howard). However, unbeknownst to the rest of Alphonse's mob, it's actually Victor himself who is behind the attacks, having infiltrated the gang with the express purpose of wreaking a slow-burning revenge.
When Darcy hits upon a string of clues that could blow Victor's cover, he finds himself in something of a quandary, since he feels connected to Darcy and doesn't want to have to kill him. At the same time, Victor's disfigured French neighbour Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) figures out what he's up to and blackmails him into helping her get some revenge of her own.
Farrell opts to play Victor as the brooding, silent type for the most part, so he isn't required to do much except look suitably haunted every so often. Cooper is surprisingly good as Darcy (not the world's most gangster name, admittedly), despite being cast ostensibly against type, while Howard is reliably solid as Alphonse. However, the performing honours are jointly shared by Noomi Rapace, who brings a forceful intensity to Beatrice and, in perhaps the most unexpected, off-the-wall appearance of the year, Isabelle Huppert, as Beatrice's hard-of-hearing, cookie-baking mother.
Making his American debut, Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) keeps things moving at a decent pace and orchestrates a couple of enjoyably ridiculous action sequences, most notably one in which Victor runs around a building offing members of his own gang without getting caught in the act. Similarly, the action-packed finale is so full-on ridiculous that it actually ends up winning you over, despite its multiple levels of stupidity.
That said, although Oplev pulls off the action sequences, the film is laughably terrible in places; the biggest problem is Rapace's character, who is written as so horribly disfigured that children actually stone her in the street while shouting ‘Monster!’, yet only has a few barely noticeable scars on her face. This effectively strips her own revenge storyline of its emotional impact, to the point where you're not sure whether she's meant to be crazy or not.
On top of that, it's never quite clear just how we're meant to take Victor's violent, bloody revenge; he doesn't really seem to be enjoying it, yet there's no sense of it destroying him and no sense of the possible redemption offered by Beatrice, something that isn't really helped by their lack of chemistry.
Dead Man Down has all sorts of problems, but its ridiculous action sequences and baffling character moments mean it's actually quite good fun in a so-bad-it's-good sort of way.