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)
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