Peppered throughout the colossal headache that is Dead Man Down's plot are some moments when you're bound to say, "Man, I could almost see myself liking this thing." But sooner than your fellow theatergoers can shush you for speaking openly during a movie, you'll be redirected to a clue to why you won't likely be recalling the crime drama with much fondness after all.
The film gushes bleak blood, opening with a speech about finding love and connection in the dismal world our hero Colin Farrell has built around himself. Long after losing his wife and daughter at the hands of a crime lord (Terrence Howard), we meet Farrell posing as one of the mobster's right-hand men. Farrell's Lazslo, operating under the moniker Victor, paces his revenge slowly and evenly, torturing the man with psychological warfare before his eventual strike.
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The prolongued vengeance ploy, which kicks off en medias res and extends throughout the film, is the real mess of the show. Even with the capable Farrell struggling with a clawing grief over the murder of his family, the story fails to engage. Laszlo's slow rampage through carboard cutouts, like Howard's gangster Alphonse and Dominic Cooper's good-natured low-level crook Darcy, anchor the drama down to a sleepy, stale stature, allowing gasps for breath only when we retreat to some of the more sparkling inspections of Laszlo's grim, lonely survival.
To say that the scenes of Farrell eating Chinese food alone in his apartment — or wading aimlessly through his day to day beyond the confines of the crime ring — are the most exciting elements of the movie might seem a bit peculiar. Though not without its own share of holes, however, Farrell's slow escalation alongside Noomi Rapace is what gives Dead Man Down any life force at all.
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Rapace, as an emotionally destitute car accident victim, witnesses one of Farrell's string of murders and blackmails him into killing the man who doomed her to the horrible handicap she now knows. Don't worry, she can walk just fine, and she's in perfect health. She's just got a couple of scars on her face. By our universe's terms, she's still irrefutably beautiful, but Dead Man Down seems to think one or two scratches around the eye would be enough to fate Rapace with crippling solitude... not to mention a swarm of neighborhood kids who vandalize her apartnment door and throw rocks at her with periodic shouts of "Monster!" Suspending your agitation here will take supreme levels of self-discipline, but if you're willing, you might get to one of the film's more shining aspects.
Fans of Farrell and Rapace might find a handful of charm in the tortured pair's slow hike to camaraderie. With Farrell operating from the detached lone wolf with a golden heart buried beneath mounds of soiled pain, and Rapace playing the dangling-by-a-thread victim to the world, a few dozen eye rolls come with the territory. But hey, we forgave it in Drive, and the slow-burning vigor fueling Farrell and Rapace's journey might just even work if embedded in a stronger overall story.
Lazslo's visits to the small, quaint apartment Beatrice (Rapace) shares with her French-speaking mother, a perky Isabelle Huppert, are quietly delightful. His jagged attempts at building some semblance of a social rapport with his blackmailer-turned-ladyfriend are interestingly tender. Though far from pristine, there's a grim beauty to the Farrell/Rapace story that's almost intriguing enough to make you wish that you could save it from this heap and inject it into a better overall script. Almost — even these high points of Dead Man Down don't warrant more than a passing nod. The good is definitely in there somewhere, but is hardly worth all the muck you have to wade through to reach it.
What did you think of the film? Let Michael Arbeiter know on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter.
[Photo Credit: Film District]
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The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.