I’ve never been part of a movie production, but I would wager a guess that making a movie is by no stretch of the imagination an easy experience. Whether trying to write a script that conveys ideas clearly (or mysteriously in some cases) or trying to direct with a personal flair that makes your film stand out, many people put a lot of themselves into the movies they create. Knowing this makes it such a huge shame when the finished product just doesn’t live up to what those involved were aiming for.
Such is the case with Deadfall, an ambitious project that shows cracks of promise through its bleak and icy exterior. Following siblings Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) after a successful heist, the two become stranded in a blizzard and split up in hopes of meeting up beyond the Canadian border and enjoying their freedom. As Addison heads into the woods, Liza hitches a ride with newly paroled Jay (Charlie Hunnam) and plans to ride with him to his parents’ house on the border for Thanksgiving dinner. However, Jay is on the run from the cops after accidentally injuring an old coach of his.
Jay’s parents, Chet (Kris Kristofferson) and June (Sissy Spacek) are told of the escaped criminals by Hannah (Kate Mara), an old friend of the family who is also the only woman deputy in her tiny department. Chet, a retired sheriff, joins the hunt for the duo. As the plot hurtles towards an unlikely Thanksgiving meeting, there are a number of problems that hold Deadfall back from being the crafty drama that it aspires to be. There are simply too many characters taking up screen time, and most of them are either unnecessary or motivated by reasons so stupidly arbitrary that they have no right to exist.
Hannah is the biggest offender of this. Her character is portrayed as a tough cop who is being held down by the misogynistic police force led by her father (Treat Williams). However, her struggle is complete fluff. Halfway through the movie, we find out she’s been accepted into the FBI Academy, and she shrugs it off because her daddy just doesn’t care. Every time she gets a proper lead and follows it, she gets talked down to and disregarded. The movie would have ended twenty minutes in if people had listened to her.
But what’s most frustrating is that she has no important bit part to play for the story. At the end of the film, she has accomplished nothing and done even less to affect the plot. She literally exists to kill time and do nothing else. This is just one of the many examples of the poorly written script hampering what could have been an intensely interesting story. The dialogue feels stilted most of the time, with characters exchanging laughable conversations. Bana’s southern accent comes off more Forrest Gump than southern gentleman, and it gets painful to listen to about two lines in.
Perhaps the creepiest part of the whole movie is the suggested incestuous relationship between Liza and Addison. Throughout the film, they talk about how their father was a bad man that Addison killed for the good of the family, so we gather that they’re connected through the need to protect each other. But around the time Addison is watching Liza takes a piss in the woods is when it got creepy. Liza’s romance with Jay is more conventional, but just as unlikely and passionless.
It’s a monumental shame that the final product couldn’t live up to what must have been a great idea on paper. Director Stefan Ruzowitzky has an eye for the bleak, frozen wasteland he films in, creating scenes of quiet beauty and striking, crisp violence. Certain scenes feel like they were shot for a better movie than Deadfall, especially since most of the cast is working below their paygrade. Eric Bana is a fantastic actor, and while he gives the best performance to be found here, it still hurts to see him in a movie this uninspired. Olivia Wilde is sexy and alluring as always, and actually manages to put in a better job than everyone but Bana.
Deadfall was an aggravating watch because it was constantly reminding me of how much better it could have been. So many opportunities were missed that could have elevated it above its peers, but instead it seems content to be a forgettable experience. Although not a terrible movie, the glimpses of greatness hidden behind the forced mediocrity only serve to remind viewers that Deadfall could have been a tauter, more focused experienced than what they were given.