Dead Man Down is what you get when you take a simple premise and stretch it out without including anything engaging or interesting. In this case, the theme of revenge is thrown into a story that is bland and straightforward, offering nothing new or exciting as it plays out to a predictable finish. There’s nothing saying that a straight up revenge movie can’t work, we all have seen great revenge flicks like Kill Bill, Taken, Gladiator, and Memento, but they all had an amazing style, a panache that made them uniquely memorable. Dead Man Down is like a revenge flick minus the panache.
The film tells the story of Victor (Colin Farrell), who works for a mob boss named Alphonse (Terrence Howard). Alphonse has been getting strange letters for the past few months that seem to be building up to something, so, of course, he goes about trying to figure out who’s sending them. Little does he know that it’s Victor, whose wife and daughter were killed because of something Alphonse did a few years earlier. While Victor works on his revenge, he gets to know a neighbor in the building next to his, a young woman named Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), who has recently been in a bad car accident caused by a drunk driver.
Victor gets a bit of a surprise when he realizes that she witnessed him murder somebody in his apartment, and then again when she asks him to kill the man who caused the accident that left her face scarred. If he doesn’t do it, she threatens to call the police and tell them everything. So now, on top of his own revenge plans, he has to plan the precise time and place where he can exact revenge for Beatrice. Meanwhile, despite the bit of tension this causes, the relationship between Victor and Beatrice starts to grow into something a little more involving.
Just from that, you can tell that there’s not really much else going on here beside the revenge plots. There is a small subplot where a friend of Victor’s, Darcy (Dominic Cooper), is playing Columbo by trying to follow clues in an attempt to figure out who killed an acquaintance, but the film seems to shrug off this subplot just as quickly as Victor does. He obviously doesn’t think that Darcy is going to find anything and at the same time, neither do we, so there’s not really much of a reason to care.
That’s not to say the film is all bad. In fact, the cast are well suited to their parts. Farrell makes for a good, tough lead while trying to avenge his family. Rapace, known for her amazing work in the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, does a fine job as the love interest. Howard, usually known for playing a protagonist, is delightfully slimy here as the mob boss trying to figure out who’s messing with him. They’re all fine actors, but they’ve all had much better material than this.
One of the main issues the film comes up against is the bland screenplay by J.H. Wyman (Fringe). I’ve already mentioned that it doesn’t really attempt to go beyond the revenge plots, at least not very far, but what he does do is get distracted from the main story by the romantic entanglement of Victor and Beatrice. Instead of enhancing the story, the focus on their relationship makes you wish for it to get back to the main focus of the film. It’s certainly not for lack of chemistry between Farrell and Rapace, they have it in spades, but their little romance just comes off as the odd plot out.
The film comes from director Niels Arden Oplev, who just happened to direct the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was an outstanding story of revenge, mystery, and murder, so you would think he would realize when the important elements of such a story that would make it engaging for the audience were missing, and yet, for Dead Man Down, it slipped right by him. Revenge can make for a really fascinating theme, but unless you dress it up a little, you’re going to end up with something flat, dull, and perhaps worst of all, forgettable.
Looking at the specs of the Blu-Ray itself, the film is presented in a 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that is pretty sharp for the most part. Much of the film is shot in darkness and shadow, but the picture clarity remains high even throughout the darkest scenes. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is a little hard to hear at some points, but this could be because the actors appear to be grumbling their dialogue in thick accents, making it harder to understand. Overall, the quality in both departments is above satisfactory.
As far as special features, it comes with the following featurettes:
- Staging the Action: The Firefights
- Revenge and Redemption: Crafting Dead Man Down
- Revenge Technique: The Cinematography
These are fairly standard extras, with the only one of them that’s even slightly worth watching being “Revenge and Redemption.” This ten-minute featurette features interviews with the cast and crew discussing the characters and story and their interpretations of both. There’s some interesting material to be found here, though you can’t help but roll your eyes a bit when they say how amazing the story it. The other two extras don’t really teach you much about the making of the movie, so you’d be justified in skipping over them.
There’s really not a whole lot to recommend with Dead Man Down. The film is sub-par and features extras that barely begin to scratch the surface regarding the making of it. Perhaps Oplev should have attempted a commentary track that would have given him more time to explain what he saw in this project that made it so appealing to him, or better yet, a track exploring Wyman’s thought process while writing it. I’d hate to think that they’re primary reasoning was a simple paycheck, but until another reason comes forth, it’s the best one to be found.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.
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