Movie Review: Dead Man Down- A Failed Attempt at Combining Scandinavian Moodiness with Hollywoodized Action Creating a Lackluster and Predictable Thriller

Dead-Man-Down-11Scandinavian cinema in the past decade has adopted atmospheric pessimism and an equally murky cinematography style creating a complimentary tone to gritty personal tales, crime dramas, and exceptionally brainy thrillers. One of those filmmakers to aid in that developing style was Niels Arden Oplev known mostly for his thrilling original adaptation of the first installment of the Millennium trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In an attempt to recreate the chemistry between filmmaker and actress muse it seems Hollywood thought it would be sufficient to give Oplev a script for an American thriller, which is heavy on the preposterousness and light on the intelligence. Dead Man Down, written by regular “Fringe” episode writer J.H. Wyman, tries exceedingly hard to maintain that Scandinavian weightiness but loses all of its intellectual thriller possibilities through a non-enigmatic structure that is blatant in its intentions and a morally repugnant theme equating of vengeance with justice. Typically vengeance tales aren’t designed to be moral flagpoles but a warm sense of humanity, or at least the struggle to keep it, is essential to keep people intrigued in a character’s slippery slope. Unfortunately Dead Man Down becomes another typical Hollywood thriller that sacrifices moody intrigue for the power of gunplay showing that the Scandinavian atmosphere of gritty contemplation was outdone by the temptation for showy action. There is vast evidence that the film had great potential relating to the thought provoking idea of human connection but it’s lost in the convoluted acrobatics of a script more interested in confusing you than engaging you. Despite having a credible filmmaker who understands the thriller atmosphere and attitude Dead Man Down descends into a contrived and messy actioner undeserving of the talent involved and more importantly undeserving of our attention.

Anyone who would find J.H. Wyman’s script for Dead Man Down intelligent is simply not utilizing enough of their brain activity to realize that convoluted doesn’t equal clever. Assaulting your audience with an uneven juggling act of vengeance, blackmail, Albanian gangsters, vigilante private investigators, the Hungarian mob, and mental torment doesn’t mean you’re keeping them intrigued, especially when more than half of your twisty reveals are prophetically apparent. Revenge never felt more complicated as we follow Victor (Colin Farrell), a vengeance seeking assassin who has infiltrated the gang of his ultimate target, as his life gets a bit more complicated when his neighbor Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) blackmails him with a video requesting he kill the man who is responsible for her disfigurement. This unlikely relationship has some unique aspects, including the notion that the past weighs heavy on any newly formed connection, but loses that empathetic potential through all the unnecessarily elaborate plot acrobatics. The whole film opens pondering the necessity for human connection and yet the overtly callous tale couldn’t be less disconnected. Wyman must be confused that a thriller is dependent on action rather than characters because it seems all of his plot designs lead to three mildly engaging action sequences. Despite the moral ambiguity of vengeance there still needs to be a struggle with humanity and it seems the script left behind connection for ultra-violent spectacle making Dead Man Down an awkwardly sluggish revenge tale that had the potential to be compelling. The complimentary awkwardness of Niels Arden Oplev’s tonally inconsistent direction certainly didn’t aid the entire film’s chances of becoming a redeemable action focused thriller.


There is no doubt that Oplev has talent as a director of unnerving atmosphere and gritty reflections on morality but it seems the forced attempt to balance Scandinavian moodiness and Hollywood action didn’t allow them to blend naturally. Instead of finding a steady rhythm between the two competing styles, one exceptionally foreign and the other all too usual, the film becomes just as displaced in tone as the entire script is in cognitive lucidity. Dead Man Down never feels as though it’s a hardened Scandinavian filmmaker guiding us through this all too serious film, but rather an amateurish American filmmaker trying to mimic the foreign ambiance and manner. Oplev might have been thrown off by the blatantly contrived script but his delivery in trying to connect action with mystery with drama becomes a choppy affair that could inspire thoughtful movie goers to take a Dramamine afterwards. The two halves of the film have completely differing paces with the first half as lethargic and the second as maniac on speed mode, which adds to our already disconnected attitude towards the events taking place in the film. It’s surprising that Oplev couldn’t follow the same trajectory as his fellow Danish filmmaker Nicholas Winding Refn in delivering a proper mixture of signature Scandinavian style and Hollywood homage. While Dead Man Down should have had the ingenuity in script to compliment the realism in Paul Cameron’s cinematography the whole product seems unbalanced, disjointed, and completely nonsensical. Perhaps this was one of those tragic transitions of a foreign talent attempting to create an American brand because previous works by Niels Arden Oplev have been dynamic, thought provoking, and engaging. Unfortunately Dead Man Down didn’t possess any of those positive qualities and it also didn’t do any of the extremely talented actors any favors.

The true wasteful shame in this predictable thriller was the opportunity to reunite the original Lisbeth Salander Noomi Rapace, from the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, with her original director. Their reunited collaboration is more than a disappointment but the state of its quality had nothing to do with Rapace’s fine acting abilities. In fact, most if not all of the performances were credible in their conviction and believable in all of their vulnerabilities even if the directing style amplified them to the level of melodrama. Rapace has a strong presence about her even when she’s playing in fear and whenever she’s on the screen it’s completely enthralling even though her character lacks the complexity of what she’s used to handling. Her romantic counterpart played by Colin Farrell has an equally engaging presence but the script conjures up even more pouty angst scenarios for him to portray making it one of his least intriguing roles in quite a while (fault of the script, not of his). Probably the most out of place actor in the entire film is Terrence Howard only because it’s difficult to take him seriously as a genuine villain. It might be his natural voice or his usually nice guy demeanor that is responsible for his lack of a menacing persona but whatever it is it doesn’t fit throughout the entire film from beginning to end. Seeing unfortunate wasting of talent from the likes of Dominic Cooper and the great, great F. Murray Abraham just irks knowledgeable movie goers that their immense talents could have been better used elsewhere. Dead Man Down didn’t possess a riveting script with dynamic characters so it’s difficult for a director, especially one so strained here, to inspire truly spellbinding performances from his talented cast making it a waste on all fronts.


For those expecting a continuation of the Scandinavian takeover of American cinema the way Nicholas Winding Refn captivated us with the ambient thriller Drive then you’ll be vastly disappointed with the American debut of Niels Arden Oplev. The original director of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo attempted to collaborate again with Noomi Rapace but unfortunately the script was too forceful and his directing style was too unfocused. Throughout the film there is a hint of potential, especially in the fine performances from the cast but also in the neo-noirish tonal atmosphere that Oplev understands but couldn’t replicate it in full here. Thriller seekers who are seeking an inventive and thought provoking thriller will only find a convoluted plot with melodramatic undertones making it a predictable and disconnected experience. When you attempt to balance foreign creativity with the standard flashiness of Hollywood ultimately the showiness will consume the finer artistic qualities, especially when you’re introducing action into what should be a more morally contemplative thriller. Dead Man Down is another narrowly simplistic thriller that fails to engage your mind, fails to ignite your adrenaline, and also fails to entertain because it’s locked in a callous world with little understanding of our own.

Grade: C-

One Response to “Movie Review: Dead Man Down- A Failed Attempt at Combining Scandinavian Moodiness with Hollywoodized Action Creating a Lackluster and Predictable Thriller”
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