Dead Man Down is a revenge thriller that aspires to be more than your average revenge thriller. For the most part it succeeds.
Someone is gunning for the top spot and threatening Alphonse. One of his trusted lieutenants gets a lead and promptly gets killed. Victor’s best friend, Darcy (Dominic Cooper, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), thinks finding the mystery man will improve their stock within the gang.
Meanwhile, Victor finds himself intrigued by his shy neighbor, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace, Prometheus). Beatrice is recovering physically and psychologically after a car accident left her disfigured. Beatrice could have easily been the demure love interest, but Rapace gives an impassioned performance that refuses to allow Beatrice to be a mere background player.
Screenwriter J.H. Wyman (Fringe) sets up what on the surface appears to be an all too familiar setup. A brooding assassin finds an escape from his tortured life thanks to an unlikely romance. Thankfully, Wyman shakes those expectations up and charts the film on an unpredictable course. The twist truly helps raise the movie to another level.
Beyond some great cameos in Horrible Bosses and Crazy Heart, Farrell hasn’t shown the spark in a leading role that made him the next major superstar a decade ago, but he is perfectly in his element here and he owns the film as if it was a golden ticket to Top Tier status again. It’s the best he’s been in years. Likewise for Howard, who seems motivated here to rekindle the fire he had in 2005 when he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Hustle & Flow.
As the film is co-produced by WWE Studios you know there’s bound to be some WWE superstar awkwardly trying to become the next Dwayne Johnson.
In this case it’s the particularly dull Stu Bennett better known to wrestling fans as Wade Barrett. Bennett won’t need to hang up his tights and elbow pad anytime soon as he plays Alphonse’s bodyguard Kilroy.
Director Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) has a firm control of the film. He lingers long enough on scenes to show Victor’s confusion with his feelings for Beatrice. Oplev also shows Beatrice’s reluctance to give in to her emotions while keeping the nearly two-hour film moving forward without losing momentum.
Thematically, the film plays out like Leon the Professional. It’s mostly low-key quiet scenes interrupted with brief action elements leading to an explosive finale.
And when it’s time for the splashy explosive ending, Oplev is definitely up for it with some creative shoot-outs and innovative deaths.
Dead Man Down makes for a solid comeback vehicle for Farrell and Howard. For those who like a little substance to their action/thrillers, this is definitely worth checking out.
Rating: 7 out of 10