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Rated 3.02 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Revenge Thriller
by Frank Wilkins

Marking the American film debut of Niels Arden Oplev, the master auteur behind the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Dead Man Down doesn’t pack quite the same guttural punch as the film that unleashed Lisbeth Salander’s angsty, tattooed spunk onto the world, but it does share a bit of the same dark and mysterious DNA.

Oplev once again calls upon the services of Noomi Rapace, the girl who sported all those tattoos, to carry the mantle of revenge against those who’ve wronged her. Except this time the tattoos are deep, disfiguring red scars covering one side of her Beatrice’s face, the result of a car accident, and her revenge is aimed at the drunk driver who crashed into her and escaped legal punishment.

Opposite Rapace is Irish actor Colin Farrell as Victor, a man of cool grace and alluring mystery. He’s an on-the-rise gangland player who has infiltrated the ranks of a New York City crime syndicate bossed by kingpin Alphonse (Terrence Howard), with the purpose of dispensing his own brand of revenge to make Alphonse pay for wrecking his once idyllic lifestyle.

Off the mean streets, Victor spends time in his humble abode plotting the meticulous plan for revenge and receiving the affectionate eye of Beatrice who watches him from the balcony of her identical tenement building across the way. After finally getting his attention with longing looks and fresh baked cookies, she traps him on their first date in a blackmail scheme whereby he must kill the man who disfigured her or she goes to the police with digitally recorded evidence of the awful thing she saw take place in his apartment.

Oplev’s strong suit, which marked his signature style in Dragon Tattoo, is his ability to unfurl a meticulously complex story with the slow burn of a smoldering ash, while simultaneously maintaining a high level of fascination. J.H. Wyman’s (The Mexican) screenplay, which isn’t quite the same complex beast as that of Dragon Tattoo, is unfortunately the downfall of Dead Man Down. Oplev immerses the proceedings in a nice sense of mood, character, and atmospheric chill, but some truly dopey script decisions and dialogue shortcomings prove too much for Oplev to overcome. Sure, simple, well-telegraphed plot points are nearly always the safest bet for wide audience comprehension, but true skill is demonstrated by knowing how to lead an audience through a film’s more intricate moments while not resorting to characters forced to couch a plot explanation as natural discourse.

What the film lacks in smart, scintillating dialogue, it nearly makes up for in its more enjoyable moments that come from watching it move slowly and meticulously, like a chameleon gradually changing its spots, toward a crashing climax. That gives Oplev ample time to build the twisted, deeply connected relationship between Victor and Beatrice that is crucial to successfully infusing his unique brand of artistic expression. Her dark heart, hell-bent on revenging her attacker, plays nicely with Victor who becomes the ticket out of her darkness.

Terrence Howard goes against type as a very slick, very smooth criminal. He’s cold, calculating and you get a true sense that he’s capable of erupting in a violent volcano at any moment. Nearly unrecognizable is Dominic Cooper as Darcy, Victor’s closest friend and an independently ambitious member of the gang determined to piece together the puzzle of who is threatening Alphonse with grisly, cryptic messages and pieces of photographs left in various cavities of dead gang members. Little does Darcy know, the culprit may turn out to be much closer than he expected.

Dead Man Down comes close to succeeding due to Oplev’s moody atmospheric style alone. Plus the performances of Rapace and Ferrell are always fun to watch -- if not occasionally frustrating due to the oftentimes barely-passable-as-professional dialogue they’re given. But it’s all for naught as we’re too often snapped from our European art house bliss by too many moments that just don’t sound natural and fail to make any sense. Oplev is a fine technician of the craft and a true artistic visionary in the mold of a David Fincher or the French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Definitely someone to keep an eye on as he forges his way into American cinema. Unfortunately he doesn’t have much to work with in Dead Man Down.

(Released by Film District and rated “R” for violence, language throughout and a scene of sexuality.)

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