American Neo-Noir meets romantic European fable
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.