Not Such a Hungarian Rhapsody:
Dead Man Down
One of the biggest mysteries about this American feature debut from Niels Arden Oplev, who directed the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is just how it attracted so much fine acting talent. I haven’t seen that film, so maybe it just made him hard to resist. I can’t think of what else it could be; but I wonder what they made of the finished product when they all sat down to see how Dead Man Down had turned out. Did it bear any resemblance to what they had seen in the script?
The pre-credits sequence starts off with a monologue into which screenwriter J. H. Wyman seems to have poured every cliché on having a new-born child that he could find. And from there we move quickly to a badly-staged shootout that is also the most poorly-lit sequence that you’re likely to see this side of Ron Howard’s abysmal The Da Vinci Code. In fact the entire film is lit in this way; and believe me it does not lend it a noir dimension, it just makes the action—such as it is—and the plot seem even more turgid.
There are films—the astonishing Cloud Atlas comes to mind—which on the surface seem so confusing that you have decided on another viewing even before the first is over. You just know that it is going to be worth your while. And then there are films like Dead Man Down where you realise only half-an-hour into it that you just don’t care if you never find out what it’s all about.
Roughly, Victor (Collin Farrell) is a Hungarian who has lost his family to a gangster and is now systematically wiping out the entire gang in his quest for revenge. He discovers a mutual attraction with Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), a beautician who has been scarred by a drunken driver and who is seeking revenge against him. And yes, I suppose that the film attempts to be a meditation of sorts on the ultimate emptiness of revenge; or perhaps I’m just being kind.
I like Farrell but it may be about time for him to pick a decent film again. Here he has little to do except look unshaven, brooding and moody—not exactly a stretch for this actor. The character also does emphasise a couple of the film’s more glaring plot holes. When Beatrice comments that he doesn’t have any trace of a Hungarian accent he replies that he has worked hard to lose it. Well, considering that he has only been in the country a couple of years you can certainly say that again.
Also, despite a background as an engineer he is staggeringly efficient with all sorts of firepower, not to mention explosives and extreme surveillance equipment. He dismisses this as being because he had been in the army. Jesus, who was he training with? Jason Bourne?
If the film has anything at all to recommend it then that has to be Noomi Rapace, who blew me away in last year’s Prometheus. Yet again her casting had me baffled. Yes, she has scars but just why the local kids refer to her as a monster is bizarre. Rapace may not be the conventional empty plastic blow-up Californian doll, but beautiful she most certainly is. And God, does she have some screen presence. One of the reasons that I stuck it out until the end is because I find the actress so damned appealing that I really wanted to see her character find some kind of happiness.
And having stayed with it through its interminable slow-burn build-up (which I rather admired in a way) it then takes off in a completely unexpected direction for a woefully conventional final reel.
Supporting roles are taken by Terence Howard as Victor’s final target Alphonse; and there are also small roles from three actors that I just don’t seem to see enough of: Isabelle Huppert, Armand Assante and F. Murray Abraham.
Perhaps Oplev is just finding his feet with the American market, but this is one hell of a misfire.