It doesn’t take long to realize that DEAD MAN DOWN is the type of film that is dead upon arrival. Just within the first 20 minutes or so, you’re left slightly confused as to who the characters are that you’re watching, what their relationships are, what they want, what they hope to accomplish, probably because the latest film from director Niels Arden Oplev makes no attempt whatsoever to properly introduce all of those elements. And so, by the time, DEAD MAN DOWN does begin to sort out some of these pieces, it’s an uphill climb for the film to build the foundation of anything you can emotionally connect with, as you’ve just wasted a huge chunk of movie watching actions, dialogue and interactions that, within their own context at the moment, are nonsensical. Those attempts to right the ship are then thwarted by a bizarre leap of plot that has you questioning how the hell we could have possibly gotten from point A to point B with the line that was being drawn. Allow me to explain a little further...
When the film opens up, we have a group of guys all packing heat, one of which is Colin Farrell, so you know he’s important, another who is Dominic Cooper, who you can deduce will also play a fairly substantial role. The rest of them might as well be faceless, so consider them all expendable. They descend into the basement of a rather luxurious home, soon to be greeted by the well-dressed Terrence Howard, who you’d assume is the boss of everyone in the room. They open up a freezer and find a dead man stuffed in ice, with a piece of paper in his hand and a cut-up square of picture shoved in his mouth. The paper has some sort of cryptic message on it... the picture, nothing truly decipherable... and we’re left with no clue as to what their purpose is, because the film chooses not to explain them one bit. All we’re given is the knowledge that Howard’s character has been getting similar items sent to him for three months now, and he’s a little freaked out by it. Taking it another step, it’s safe to say that Howard, surrounded by armed henchmen at a moment’s notice, is a little scared by some unusual mail. Now, at this point, once again not given any specifics, it’s reasonable to deduce that Howard is playing a villain of some sorts... but if this bad guy is going to afraid and paranoid over some rather interesting messages, then how am I supposed to buy him as a credible threat to whoever the hero may turn out to be? Oh, that’s right... I can’t. It only gets worse for Howard, as his fear makes him probably one of the weaker villains I’ve ever seen. Want to know what your typical bad guy would do if he felt he was being threatened? He’s go on the offensive. He’d find anyone who he thought might be putting him on notice, and he’d kill them... then he’d kill their families... then those families’ neighbors, their families and so on and so forth until he found the source of his problem or put enough fear back in them that they ceased their plan. Nope... not this guy... he willingly offers up his fear to anyone who will listen, making him seem... well, like a bit of a pussy.
But let’s move onto the greater premise, which DEAD MAN DOWN eventually gets to. Farrell, playing one of Howard’s henchmen, regularly interacts with this woman (Noomi Rapace) who lives directly across from his apartment in another building. They usually share waves from afar, but one day she decides to leave him a note in his mailbox, in the hopes that they might be able to meet and talk and get to know each other on a more personal level. But really it’s a trap for Farrell, as Rapace, sporting facial scars and a damaged ear, attempts to blackmail him into killing the man responsible for her altered outward appearance. You see, she caught him killing the very guy who we see in the beginning, and, if he doesn’t wipe out the guy who made her look this way as a result of a DUI car crash, she’ll contact the police. Now, logic and reason would dictate that you don’t make threats like this against a guy who carries a gun, but you might as well throw that out the window since DEAD MAN DOWN doesn’t seem to operate with either. Of course, then the web becomes to unravel, as we get deeper and deeper into who Farrell really is, and why he killed that guy in the first place... and now Rapace finds herself conveniently in the middle of someone else’s mess as well... but that’s okay, because J.H. Wyman’s script will incorporate some sort of romantic element between them in order to keep them in closer proximity than what reality would dictate. After all, if two people are going to fall in love, why wouldn’t it happen between a murderer and a woman blackmailing the very same man she may be developing feelings for? Not to mention, they have no chemistry together at all, making their partnership even more of a stretch. Their first “date” is comprised of long pauses between short sentences and plenty of silence, which should be a clear indication that love may be in the air.
Cooper gets tacked on with some ridiculously dumb side story as a henchmen trying to move his way up the underground crime ladder with some detective work that may reveal who is behind the weird letters to his boss, and between the quest for revenge and the theme that all broken hearts can be mended, there’s just too much stupid in DEAD MAN DOWN for me to bear... I mean, perhaps it would have been a little more tolerable had Oplev opted for some type of fun approach. But the film is quite the bore as it moves along, and really heads into territory that you might find interesting enough to hold your attention. I’ll give Oplev credit for a nice shot here and nice shot there, but it just further reminds me that visuals that nice-looking, even as scattered as they are, deserve to be in a better movie than this.
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