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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
He looks out the window in the night sky after a long day's work,
thinking of what has become of himself. Across his apartment balcony,
in the window of the building opposite his, stares a woman, solemn,
pained. Their eyes meet, and, slowly, they wave at each other. Not a
word was spoken.
Subtle scenes like these evoke memories of the raw power of film - it is emotion, not words or sometimes action - that drive a motion picture. Thing is, Vic is a thug working for a ruthless mobster; and Beatrice is a traumatized victim of a car accident. The subtlety will not last long, but it does make healthy re-appearances.
Niels Arden Oplev's "Dead Man Down" is the English-language debut (third this year overall following two Korean efforts) of the Swedish filmmaker famous for the original "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" film. He even brought along his star Noomi Rapace for the ride. It is a joy to see a modern filmmaker who cares for and loves his characters as much as the audience expects themselves to, that we are invested in them strongly and want to see them succeed. He crafts the film with love, as the cinematography gracefully dances around the characters, as if it was a complex ballet intrigue and hidden motives. Do we really want to right that wrong? Will it be worth it in the end? For us and for our loved ones?
The movie is, first and foremost, a revenge thriller. But surprisingly, it is also a compelling love story. From the moment the film opens we are thrust into the urban jungle of New York City (accentuated with a moody and atmospheric score by Jacob Groth, composer of the original "Millennium" trilogy), but with a poignant yet meaningful statement by Vic's friend Darcy (Cooper). Writer J.H. Wyman uses strands of earlier revenge films, twisty film-noirs and the classic melodramatic romance of earlier Hollywood films and incorporated them into his screenplay. Oplev transforms the screenplay, with such passionate energy and inventiveness, that the whole film somehow resembles a classic romantic European fable - sort of like this big tough warrior who falls in love with a wounded soul in a far-away and dangerous land, and both become kindred spirits. It is engrossing and captivating to watch the characters actually become real human beings, instead of being caricatures. This is a film where the characters' decisions affects what happens next.
The film would not succeed had it not been for the two leads, Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace, followed by a strong and diverse supporting cast. Farrell is strong as Vic, big, tough but withdrawn and solemn, slowly hiding away his anguish and rage towards his real enemy. Rapace, an actress whom I'm starting to grow fond of, is quite wonderful as Beatrice, who is traumatized but is still capable of captivating the lonely Vic. She walks and talks with unease, but there are times where she switches gears and becomes intensely aggressive in her true goal, where it will reveal is eating her up slowly but surely. The strong chemistry between the duo make the movie much, much better than it was intended.
The rest of the cast consists of Terrence Howard as a deliciously ruthless and intimidating as the villain Alphonse (watch the scene where he confronts Vic in a dark apartment room, with backlighting in Paul Cameron's cinematography brilliantly capturing the essence of noir), Dominic Cooper giving Darcy a human and realistic portrayal of a stock crime film character, and brief but warmly welcome appearances of F. Murray Abraham and Isabelle Huppert.
This is a movie which has something for both guys and gals. Guys will go for the gritty story and the obligatory "Colin Farrell kicks ass" scenes, especially the violent climax. Women would go just to see Farrell the romantic, and the compelling chemistry between the two leads are enough to make them swoon over. But the film is so well made, the characters and story strongly developed and very compelling enough to hold my attention for two hours, that really, you couldn't ask for a more well rounded revenge thriller of late. This is a movie which actually is a real movie, instead of feeling like a movie or being a commercial/stunt/SFX reel. Kudos to especially Oplev, Farrell and Rapace for making a strong, real film about lovable characters.
No doubt the marketing for the film is way off (as an action thriller, as usual) and reveals quite too much. Doesn't matter. "Dead Man Down" is the finest and most meaningful revenge film in years.
Dead Man Down is a surprise and an exceptionally rewarding viewing
experience. This is an intelligent thriller packed with action that
takes its time to unfold and finally wanders off into the sunset
leaving the viewer invigorated and satisfied, but ready for another
Victor (Colin Farrell) is a player in in gangland kingpin Alphonse's (Terrence Howard) empire and, though he gives the appearance of being Alphonse's right-hand man, his intentions towards the crime lord are decidedly darker. Meanwhile, the girl in the apartment opposite, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), watches him dispatch an adversary and blackmails him into dishing out a generous serving of retribution that she herself is unable (or unwilling) to administer.
Neils Arden Oplev (the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and currently shooting Stephen King's Under the Dome) peels back layer after layer to reveal ever-rawer characters and emotions in Dead Man Down. It isn't just about unfolding the story, though he does so beautifully, it is more about filling out the characters carefully so that we understand what makes them tick. No, what makes them angry.
There are some severely damaged characters on display here but their emotions, their actions, come across as not just understandable but entirely justified. Forget petty crooks with violent whims, Victor and Beatrice have given serious thought to their revenge but that doesn't make them shallow or irredeemable.
While Victor bubbles along in a coldly, organized manner, Beatrice rages under her skin. On the surface she is the cool cat but the confusion, the maelstrom of rage, bitterness and loss, swirls within her so that she is potentially dangerous to herself and Victor. It is tempting to use the old cliché of both Farrell and Rapace 'never being better' but it isn't true in her case; she is frequently this good, even if the films don't always match her talent. In Farrell's case, he has so many under-performing films (London Boulevard, Tigerland) and the odd turkey (Total Recall) on his CV that it is easy to forget that he is generally on very fine form. Don't believe me? Look again at Phone Booth, In Bruges
Howard has a reputation in the industry of being 'difficult' (note the recasting of Colonel Rhodes in the Iron Man sequels) but his body of work is extraordinary and the intensity of his performance in Dead Man Down makes it blindingly obvious why he's a good bet on screen. There's no Nicolas Cage-type ranting, just a considered, quiet violence to his Alphonse.
Dominic Cooper slips along in Dead Man Down, not at all unremarkable, but just another fine actor and a superbly cast film. As Darcy, another of Alphonse's mob and friend of the traitorous Victor, he comes across as a good(ish) guy who's unfortunate to be caught up in entirely the wrong job in the wrong place at the wrong time. He doesn't steal scenes here but he fills them out, he completes them, knowing his place in the hierarchy of the mob and his billing in the film.
Oplev has crafted a very fine thriller indeed. The drama excites, the explosions scorch the skin but what makes Dead Man Down stand above so many others in the genre (I'm talking to you, Welcome to the Punch) is not the ramped up action but the stillness and the time and care he takes over his characters and the setting of the atmosphere. He allows us time to enjoy the clinking of ice-cubes in glasses as Victor and Beatrice consider each other and, strangely for a director of an action flick, allows the dialogue to do the talking rather than the gunshots and the car chases.
Dead Man Down is at times gentle but always thrilling and the pauses in the action don't ever detract from the pace. Conversely, they make it more intense and a film that truly deserves to register at the box office in spite of the big-buck, megastar vehicles of Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness. I fear it will be another 'underperforming' film on Farrell's CV, but don't for a minute confuse that with being a flop. The dead man might be down but he definitely isn't out.
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The revenge genre is often a tired one. The majority are either so
sullen that they lose sight of what makes these fantasies entertaining
or too silly to offer any glimpse of realism or consequence. "Dead Man
Down" offers just the right amount of grittiness to be taken seriously,
but also maintains its own identity with a heavy focus on character
development and a more philosophical viewpoint on the nature of getting
even. The vengeful gangster and his plight may be a repetitive
backstory, but the cryptic structuring, attention to emotion, and
competent acting strengthens the refreshingly fluctuating twists. While
the conclusion digresses into a prosaic, albeit satisfying action
sequence, it doesn't dilute the antiheros' uniquely warped relationship
or their infectiously harsh personalities.
When crime lord Alphonse's (Terence Howard) men begin turning up murdered, along with enigmatic clues elaborating on the responsible party, the gangster looks to his henchmen Victor (Colin Farrell) and Darcy (Dominic Cooper) for answers. But Victor has his own plans, including a labored revenge scheme against those that wronged him in the past. As he steadily brings his complex machinations to fruition, he starts an unlikely relationship with his neighbor, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), an emotionally damaged woman with desires just as ominous as his. Forced into a vicious cycle of vengeance, Victor must attempt to not only satisfy his demons but also salvage the soul of his newfound companion.
Adorned with an impossibly generic title, "Dead Man Down" is unexpectedly an absorbingly unique revenge fantasy. Devoid of the typical action, adventure, and beauteous damsels-in-distress, it is instead a morbidly dark, fascinatingly grim look at revenge and, less commonly, the aftermath. The emotions experienced by the hateful, the murderous, and the defensive are scrutinized beyond the normal array of purely evil entities undergoing deserved comeuppance. Nothing is black and white in the film instead, every character is tinged with complications and questionable qualities, making this group of antiheroes unpredictable, sympathetic, or repugnant in alternating turns.
It's rare to see a crime thriller spend so much time on character development. It's also quite welcome the ulterior motives, extortive attitudes, and sabotage aren't awkwardly spontaneous but rather sensible operations for generously analyzed mentalities. These aren't cardboard cutouts; and excessive dialogue doesn't make up for lack of substance. Instead, director Niels Arden Oplev opts for prolonged, brooding facial communications that convey much more than stale words. It's a feat for Farrell to be so convincing as an implacable gangster (his best role since "In Bruges") and Rapace is sensational as an equally bitter survivor who literally wears the scars of mental anguish on her face. Howard is one of the few weak spots, once again taking a sinister role and making it apprehensive. And although the climax embodies the raging, explosive visualization of suspenseful retribution that audiences crave (a contrasting culmination for the sake of crowd-pleasing action), it's the contrived satisfaction "Dead Man Down" needs to soften the blow of such a severe, serious series of retaliations.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)
I honestly had to sit in contemplative amazement for few minutes after
watching this film just to digest how well it was done. Every scene
delivered a certain level of excellence that was surpassed by the next
simply by building levels of uncertainty while carrying the story
forward with almost an anticipated reluctance of sorts. Of the many
thousands of action movies I've seen in the last 30 years, I would put
this in the top 5. Astonishing directing, set design, acting, and a
brooding atmosphere that works, mixed with a romantic/revenge tale of
crossed messages born of emotional extremes in a multi-context of
It's a movie that never loses sight of what it originally intends, nor does it pander to taste or pretend to be better than it is. The script is solid and seamless. There are some shortcomings as to continuity and perspective of a linear timeline, but there is SO much emotion in even the smallest scenes as to make this almost trivial. I believe this is a masterpiece of directing overall that goes far beyond the mediocre nature of even the best of Hollywood's action films. It has a passionate heart with a brutal honesty that involves vulnerability conflicting with its own desire for the desolation of complete resolve regardless of circumstance.
When you see a movie of this quality, it is certainly difficult to put another one in the DVD player. Just like graduating high school makes it impossible to want to repeat the 11th grade.
In the seemingly police-less gangland, Dead Man Down takes you through
a labyrinth of visually distinct fascinating characters in an
existential approach to both the dilemmas of revenge an their
consequences. The action is not superfluous and hollow, but done in a
way where each beat is well orchestrated with both real purpose and
Through the "doll like" character Beatrice and her adjacent complex neighbor Victor, this film manages to portray an engrossing romantic angle highlighted by its believability through the shear awkward yet genuineness of their interactions. After the tonal shift of the reveal there becomes a form dark energy of rapidness that engulfs them. The eyes of Beatrice become dark and manic, full of pain, culminating in an iconic car sequence of dizzying passion.
Alphonse is a very convincing crime lord at the edge of his mental ropes. In a certain scene you can see the instability as his character while he sits in the shadows eying Victor like a shark as he walks into the frame. An effective rendition of a classy character in command after working their way to the top having to once again become savage in order to remain atop his hill. With his main goons we have Killroy the seven foot tall muscular man with the deep booming voice, Terry the skinny tattoo covered man, and Darcy the smart friend of Vicker who becomes the scariest character in his on right.
This film has the pacing and build like an old crime film, complete with dramatic emotionally spilling performances down to its very ending note. The dialog and characters are so fascinating that when the violence begins occurring you generally care about them. The message is not one glorifying revenge as many films succumb to, but one showing the results of their outcome, which the film has many variations of each character must deal with on their own. This film is an original Neo Noir and a complex brooding character piece strung together with the dazzling imagery of humanity and laced through fragile ephemeral happiness. The kind of film that has become a rarity at the box office. Fantastic performances all around.
On paper it hardly sounds original. Hero's wife and child killed by gang. Hero seeks to get revenge on gang. But the fact that the opening scene , nor indeed any other thereafter shows this heinous crime suggests there is considerably more thought and drama in Dead Man Down than one might expect. It all starts when a criminal gang led by Kingpin Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard) find one of their number in a freezer with a few twisted clues left by his killer. As Hoyt seeks revenge on the man responsible we see Victor (Colin Farrell) as his trusted right hand man saving his life whilst he looks to serve street justice on those suspected of offing his chums. Not is all as it seems, however, as the truth is slowly revealed throughout the film. Characters are far less one dimensional than your average goon. Victor's co-gangster buddy Darcy talking about an appreciation for life now he has a wife and child, with an investigative mind like Colombo, Hoyt's silently menacing demeaner leaving you wondering if he knows more than he is letting on, the list goes on. Even love interest Naomi Rapace has her own agenda as a woman scarred after a horrific car accident. It makes proceeding more deep than you average Hollywood action flick. The lost wife and child element is told through a torn photo and old videos of happier times and not overplayed. There is no in your face execution scene here, allowing the audience to make up their own mind as to what actually happened. Instead the focus is on story and character development making the proceedings far more thoughtful than most films in it's genre. a refreshing change which actually adds an air of mystery rather than gung-ho machismo. This does mean that Dead Man Down is not as action packed as the trailer may lead you to believe. This is far more about the set up than the act itself. There are action moments of course, especially the final climax, but the focus is more on building up subtle tension rather than plenty of shooty bang. It's nicely shot too, not to glamorous not bleak and the story plods at a nice steady pace. Definitely worth a watch and something different to the usual revenge film.
Greetings again from the darkness. On the surface, this looks like just
another early season crime thriller. From that perspective, it works
well enough. However, there are some elements that add complexity and
interest, and set this one above the usual. It's directed by Niels
Arden Oplev who was responsible for the original (and very cool)
Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This looks to be
his first English language feature and he re-teams with the exciting
and talented Noomi Rapace.
The film begins with a body in the freezer, and crime boss Alphonse (Terrence Howard) and his crew solving the mystery of who killed his friend and associate. Someone has been tormenting Alphonse with little clues and he falls right into the trap of jumping to conclusions. One member of his crew is Victor (Colin Farrell). We slowly learn more about Victor thanks to an awkward and slow connection between he and his neighbor Beatrice (Ms. Rapace). Their initial acknowledgment of each other is an exchange of waves between balconies. It's an effective visual.
The movie bounces between crime thriller and romantic/love story. The added fun of secret missions from both Victor and Beatrice provide the twist this one needs. Actually there are 4-5 exceptional scenes in the movie which make up for the often plodding pace ... not typically a good thing for a thriller. The pieces are greater than the whole, but that doesn't mean it's not an interesting watch.
In addition to Farrell, Rapace and Howard, we get some really enjoyable support work from Dominic Cooper, Isabelle Huppert and F Murray Abraham. Ms. Huppert in particular adds a touch of class and humor, and her character could have easily been expanded ... same for Mr. Abraham. Cooper plays an idealistic, but not so observant buddy to Victor and loyal crew member of Howard.
This one reminds at times of a couple of Mel Gibson revenge flicks: Payback and Edge of Darkness. What really helps here is the strength of the cast and unusual scars of Victor and Beatrice. A slightly tighter script and improved pacing would have jumped this one a level or two.
I'll admit; this isn't my typical kind of film. I only went because the
writer is Joel Wyman. I am a huge fan of FRINGE, a science
fiction/family drama for which he served as show-runner, and as a
writer. I was pleasantly surprised: it's not too shabby. The film uses
an intricate little plot about Farrell's character's motivations, and
how he was going to exact his revenge..
Wyman seems to go for common themes in his work - love, building something, family, and connections. Although there is an underlying theme about love, the film does not skip out on the action: This is a story about revenge in the name of love, and there are several scenes in which people die in the most terrible ways imaginable. Right at the start even, when our characters get involved in a little "game."
Maybe I am a huge softie, but when we first meet Victor and Beatrice, who had been staring at each other across from their respective apartments, I felt very emotional about a specific gesture in the scene. There's a bit of a slow buildup, but that is suddenly dashed when we find out why Beatrice has really been watching Victor. Turns out she is need of a bit of revenge, and she has some proof of something that could get Victor into a lot of trouble. As the plot progresses, these two seem to develop genuine feelings for one another. Victor lost something precious to him, and both could understand the need to make those responsible for their pain, pay.
My chief beefs with the film stem around a few things.
First, Farrell... well, I hope he deliberately looked like he was staring into the distance all the time. I guess he had that thousand- yard-stare because of his family and his hopes to avenge them at all costs, but Farrell left me flat. Noomi Rapace was OK, but I liked her much better in Prometheus. I found her Beatrice mostly annoying, although her back-story was heartfelt, and I understood how she felt. In my opinion, Terrence Howard is the winner here; his Alphonse, a truly disgusting sociopath.
Second, the love part was a hard sell for me because of the terms in which Victor and Beatrice become involved. But, then again, they did share a deep hurt, so they seemed to understand one another. Not the best love story ever, but good enough for a film.
Like many films, this one uses an object to convey some kind of meaning. I won't spoil it here, but I liked its use. There is also some nice use of cinematography.
It was fun and I felt my money was well spent.
The greatest part of watching Dead Man Down was hands down the performances, Noomi Repace is absolutely a spell binding actress with unbelievable capabilities as an actress, an it shows in this film. Colin Farrell turns in a likable performance as Victor however, one must wonder if most of his performance was left on the cutting room floor, as with the rest of the film. While the film gains momentum within the first 5 minutes, it then is bogged down with a poorly executed shootout that left you straining your eyes and your brain to make it become sensible but, it never does. In fact, the film as a whole is quite a character driven piece that left the audience wanting to know the resolutions more clearly instead of wondering in convoluted plot twists that become bothersome due to the fact that it becomes a shoot 'em up action film in the third act. Normally, that would be the way to end this type of film if there wasn't so much character development. The film starts to have the milk or the cookies dilemma. On one hand, you have these fantastic performances around the board, each scene giving more and more insight into each character's psyche and then you have these epic scenes of action violence. Unfortunately, the film needed to be told as one or the other. Is it supposed to be clever? Is it supposed to be an action film? Those are some of the questions you'll be asking yourself. Overall, It felt as if the film was confused as to what it wanted to be. At the end of the day, Dead Man Down is a two star movie with 4 star performances. The end product is something that is better left as a rental but definitely worth a one time watch.
It is really hard for me to rate this film because it is a mix of great
and horrid bits. Colin Farrell's quiet yet intense act is matched by
Naomi Rapace's hysterical overacting, the rather complex plot is messed
up by cliché scenes and in the end, the moral seems to be that all
plans that you care about are a lot easier to accomplish if there are
no friends and romantic interests.
The thing with the film is that it has a lot going for it: great cast, good acting most of the time, a compelling story with just the right amount of details to make the plot a lot better than most Hollywood productions. Somewhere along the way it turns sour, the feeling someone gets when expecting to have fun at a party, only to have it all soiled by the significant's other discomfort. In the end the revenge feels failed, the romance doomed, the second chance just that: chance.
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