March 8, 2013



DEAD MAN DOWN:  Watch It At Home – Effectively Moody Tale of Revenge

Until its final reel, when it arrives pretty much where you thought it was going to go from the very start, and in a way even dumber than you expected, DEAD MAN DOWN is a surprisingly rich B-movie in a movie business that no longer has much place for B-movies.

The premise itself is sort of a spoiler, revealed gradually by J. H. Wyman’s script, but it’s been pretty much disclosed already by the marketing.  Victor (Colin Farrell) and Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) are a profoundly damaged pair–her face is scarred from injuries in an auto accident caused by a drunk driver, and he has a secret past he hasn’t told anyone about–who live in the same apartment complex, their balconies across from each other.  They wave and smile and finally meet, but what could be the set-up for a Nicholas Sparks romance is instead a duet of revenge, as what unites the couple is their thirst for rough justice, in Victor’s case against his gangster boss Alphonse (Terrence Howard) and a host of others who have wronged him.

Wyman was for years one of the showrunners of Fringe, and while he tells a good yarn here, Victor’s plot against Alphonse is almost ludicrously complicated, the kind of story that gets recounted over a whole season of a show like Revenge or The Following.  Squeezed into 110 minutes, it’s all too busy, and pitted with plot holes.  What Wyman does well, though, is capture the bond between these two lost souls, who are struggling to regain some humanity even as they pursue their bloody ends.

Niels Arden Oplev directed Rapace in her signature role as Lisbeth Salander in the original Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and although she’s moved on to big-budget Hollywood movies since then, he still uses her better than any of those directors have, able to catch the doubt and vulnerability within her toughness.  Dead Man is also a reminder of how much better Farrell is in low-budget indies than he is in tentpoles like Total Recall, and while Howard is a dull villain, unexpected people like Isabelle Huppert (!) and F. Murray Abraham turn up as Beatrice’s mother (she mostly speaks French, baking cookies and worrying about getting her Tupperware returned) and Victor’s uncle.  While none of the technicians here will win Oscars for their work, and they aren’t able to hide the project’s low budget, everything has a consistent and effective feel.

Dead Man Down isn’t in any way an important movie, and chunks of it are downright generic.  Yes, an abandoned factory figures into the plot, Farrell is given an arbitrary military background to explain why he could give Abu Nazir lessons in handling explosives, and the opening and closing gunfights seem to have been inserted strictly for use in the trailers.  The filmmakers never push the material in the direction of something like Oldboy, which takes similar themes to terrible, memorable conclusions.  But the lead characters have cohesive arcs, and they’re performed with real commitment and emotion that give the movie momentum.  Dead Man doesn’t have the star power, the inspiration or the polish that would make it a must-see, and no doubt it will disappear rapidly from theaters after this weekend, and yet it’s the kind of thing you could happen upon for 10 minutes on cable and find yourself watching all the way through.  Unlike Jack the Giant Slayer or Oz The Great and Powerful, it’s got a beating, non-CG heart.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."