By Michael Arruda


DEAD MAN DOWN might be the best film playing right now in theaters that no one is talking about.

It’s the latest thriller by Niels Arden Opley, the man who directed the original THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009) and stars Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace, who of course played the lead in Opley’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO.  It’s both an intense actioner that goes for the throat, and a love story that is as sincere as it is offbeat.  I loved it.

New York City crime lord Alphonse (Terrence Howard) is not having a good week.  Someone is killing his men while leaving him cryptic, yet threatening messages.  He’s coming unglued.  In a fiery shoot-out, Alphonse is nearly killed, but he’s saved by one of his boys, Victor (Colin Farrell), and as a result, he rather trusts Victor.

Not a good move on Alphonse’s part, as it turns out Victor is the man behind the threatening messages and deaths, as he’s seeking vengeance for the death of his family, which came at the hands of killers hired by Alphonse a while back.

Victor is one slick operator, and his meticulous plans for revenge are moving forward without a hitch, until he meets his neighbor, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), who lives in the apartment across from his.  Beatrice is a shy young woman with a scarred face, the result of a car accident in which she was struck by a drunk driver.

Victor and Beatrice go out on a date, and it’s there that she drops a bombshell on him: she knows that he’s a killer and she’s seen him kill a man.  She tells him she won’t go to the police as long as she does one thing for her:  kill the man responsible for her scarred face.

To further complicate matters, Victor’s best friend, Darcy (Dominic Cooper), is intent on moving up in Alphonse’s organization.  To do this, he makes it his mission to find out who is terrorizing his boss, and as an investigator, Darcy is no slouch and continually creeps closer to the truth, that his best friend Victor is the culprit.

And when Victor and Beatrice begin to share genuine feelings for each other and fall in love, giving them something to live for, their “all in” attitude towards vengeance takes a hit, but with Darcy busy uncovering the truth for his boss Alphonse, there’s no going back.

DEAD MAN DOWN is an adult thriller that pushes all the right buttons.  Its screenplay by J.H. Wyman tells a compelling story about intriguing characters, both good and bad, who I really cared about.  The dialogue is first-rate, and the plot solid, all the way down to its riveting conclusion.

This one includes a lot of memorable scenes.  From Victor and Beatrice’s poignant first date, where Beatrice says she swears when she’s drinks, and Victor says he does too, and they proceed to take turns swearing at their dinner table, to the sad scenes of Beatrice being antagonized and called a “monster” by the neighborhood kids.

There are also several explosive action sequences, including a couple of fiery shoot-outs, a car chase, and, better yet, some excellent scenes of suspense, one of which features some hungry rats.  Director Niels Arden Opley operates at the top of his game here.

You may ask why Victor allows himself to be blackmailed by Beatrice in the first place, and why he doesn’t just kill her to shut her up.  The fact is that Victor hates killing, which makes his quest for revenge against Alphonse all the more effective, as it shows how deeply Victor has been scarred.  Beatrice has scars on her face, but Victor has scars on his soul.  There’s a powerful human element in this movie that, in spite of its preoccupation with retribution, shows a value for life and love that I found refreshing.  Victor and Beatrice may hate the people who hurt them, but they don’t hate the human race, and they’re saved from falling into an emotionless abyss when they fall in love with each other.

And the love story between Victor and Beatrice works.  I totally bought their relationship, mostly because Farrell and Rapace share some nice chemistry together.

Beatrice lives with her mother, and these scenes reminded me of similar scenes in the recent Jason Statham actioner PARKER (2013).  In PARKER, it’s Jennifer Lopez who lives with her mother, but that love story between Lopez and Statham didn’t work, mostly because strangely—what were the writers thinking? — Statham’s Parker was interested in another woman.  Here, in DEAD MAN DOWN, there’s no “other woman,” leaving little doubt that Victor and Beatrice have feelings for each other.

I’ve never been a big fan of Colin Farrell, but he’s grown on me.  He surprised the heck out of me with his portrayal of the vampire in the remake of FRIGHT NIGHT (2011), and while he did little for me in the remake of TOTAL RECALL (2012) he’s superb here in DEAD MAN DOWN.  As a very quiet and introspective killer, his performance reminded me a lot of Ryan Gosling’s in DRIVE (2011).

And Noomi Rapace is just as strong.  She makes Beatrice such a vulnerable character that you can’t help but feel for her, even when she’s coercing Victor to kill a man for her.  She’s an incredibly gutsy woman, driven by her thirst for vengeance, and she has no problem standing up to a known killer like Victor and getting him to do what she wants.  Rapace succeeds in making both sides of this woman believable.

Dominic Cooper, who has turned in two very memorable performance in recent years, as Iron Man’s father Howard Stark in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), and as Abraham Lincoln’s vampire hunter teacher in ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER  (2012), shines here as Victor’s buddy Darcy.  It’s a gritty performance that works on more than one level.  Darcy is kind of a slimy guy, yet he genuinely values his friendship with Victor and is legitimately upset when he ultimately learns the truth about his friend.

Terrence Howard, another actor with an IRON MAN connection, as he played Tony Stark’s buddy Rhodey in the first IRON MAN (2008), is solid as crime lord Alphonse, even though the character is anything but.  Alphonse is not the most successful criminal, and he allows himself to be rattled and shaken a little too easily for my liking.

Isabelle Huppert adds fine support as Beatrice’s mother Valentine, and Armand Assante makes for a chilling baddie in his scene-stealing cameo as the bigger crime lord who pretty much tells Alphonse to get his ship in order or else.

If I have any complaints it’s that crime boss Alphonse crumbles too easily.  I expected him to show more of a backbone.  I also thought Darcy’s investigative efforts went too smoothly.  Everything he does seems to turn up a lead.   The guy’s a regular Sherlock Holmes, for crying out loud.   And the concluding gun fight was a little far-fetched and reminded me somewhat of the overblown conclusion to DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012), only not as bloody.

But these are minor complaints.

DEAD MAN DOWN is an exciting thriller wrapped around a touching love story that is every bit as satisfying as its vengeance plot.  It’s well acted by top-notch actors of the field, directed by a talented director making his American theatrical debut, and sports a screenplay that gets just about everything right.

I give it three and a half knives.


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda  gives DEAD MAN DOWN ~three and a half knives.


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