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Dead Man Down is director Niel Arden Olpev’s first movie since directing the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Dead Man Down is a half revenge-action half awkward romance that adds up to a loud, visually uninteresting, oddly acted movie. The movie is a muddled mess that suffers not just from Olpev’s direction but also from the unstructured and trite dialogue.
Victor (Colin Ferrell) plays a man haunted by the tragedy of his daughter’s untimely accidental death, the murder of his wife, and the failed attempt to murder him. Victor has infiltrated Alphonse’s (Terrence Howard) crime syndicate in hopes of exacting revenge on Alphonse, as he was the reason Victor’s daughter and wife are now dead. Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) is Victor’s neighbor who is also haunted by a past trauma in which she was hit by a drunk driver and needed facial reconstruction that has left an entire side of her face scarred. One night Beatrice, who often espies Victor in his apartment that is across the courtyard from hers, tapes Victor murdering a man and uses this as leverage against Victor so that he will kill the drunk driver that crashed into her.
While the premise is solid, the way the story unfolds doesn’t seem to make much sense. Beatrice asks Victor out on what seems to be a date until she takes him to the house of the drunk driver and reveals the tape to Victor. While the blackmailing plot would make a fine story the movie then tries to force a love story between Victor and Beatrice. Why would any man, trained killer or not, develop feelings for a woman who is blackmailing him to kill someone? While they are supposed to connect on the “two damaged people get together and fall in love” level it just doesn’t seem to make sense for the characters or the plot.
Not to mention there is no good sense of any of the characters until more than one-third of the way in. Darcy (Dominic Cooper) is the only character that receives a proper introduction and in fact opens the movie with a monologue about recently becoming a family man. Instead of showing the tragedies that befell Beatrice and Victor they are just told in conversation. Victor especially feels muddled until a third of the way in as his motives are unclear and he is doing multiple deeds that have yet to be explained. What also hurt the movie are the long periods of time where only one of the two main plots is focused, which makes the story feel more incoherent than it should.
Further hindering the story is the lack of chemistry and weird acting choices made by Ferrell and Rapace. Throughout the movie Ferrell has a stare of vapid intensity chiseled on his face. He is meant to be a tough guy but even in moments where he and Rapace are supposed to be connecting, or in the moments Victor is watching a home movie of he and his family, Ferrell never really deviates. Rapace is clearly trying to find some on screen spark with Ferrell in most of her scenes but there never is any ignition. In fact Ferrell meets Rapace’s subtle and confused affections with an iciness only seen during winter in Siberia. Rapace’s performance is above average but so much of it hinders on her interactions with Ferrell that her performance seems worse than it is. The one bright spot in the movie comes from Darcy. Cooper is lively and brings energy to what is otherwise a fairly dull affair.
Olpev’s visual style is fairly lacking as well. The cinematography is fairly by-the-book with nothing glaringly weak. There are two interesting shots involving the camera spinning and moving up and down the middle of a stairwell but other than that there is nothing to brag about. The three action sequences are loud and unremarkable, filmed more for spectacle than tension. Olpev also tries to cram moodiness down the audience’s throat. The constant trading of eye bulging stares, the random mood swings that rarely offer insight into what a character is thinking, and the forgettable musical overtones try and fail to set the mood for the movie, becoming more of annoyance than anything else.
It’s no wonder that Dead Man Down received an early release date. What could have been an entertaining action/romance movie ended up becoming an inconsequential, muddled work.