“Colin Farrell is one of Ireland’s best rising stars in Hollywood and abroad today.” No, that’s not from the Onion. It’s the lead to the actor’s bio on the Internet Movie Database. Which got me wondering how long a star may reasonably be described as “rising.”
Farrell made his first film in 1996, after all. That means he’s been rising for 17 years now, all the way from the depths of American Outlaws (2001), Alexander (2004) and Miami Vice (2006) to the heights of Total Recall, a picture widely regarded as one of last year’s least memorable.
I don’t believe Colin Farrell is or ever really was a rising star. He’s a star who occasionally rises above the mediocre to give a first-rate performance in a truly fine film. In Bruges and Crazy Heart come to mind. I suspect the process he uses to choose projects involves a blindfold and a dart.
How else to explain his involvement in the English-language debut of Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev? Oplev, of course, directed the original version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was an international hit in 2009 but, more importantly, was based on the writing of Stieg Larsson. Dead Man Down, by contrast, is based on the writing of J.H. Wyman, best known for The Mexican, a 2001 action comedy remembered chiefly for proving it’s possible for a movie to bomb even if it stars James Gandolfini, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts.
Wyman has zero track record. Oplev has never made a movie in America. So, naturally, Farrell couldn’t sign on fast enough. When else is he going to get the chance to play a Hungarian engineer who infiltrates the operation of the vicious NYC kingpin (Terrence Howard) who killed the engineer’s wife and daughter because they wouldn’t vacate a building in which he wanted to deal drugs?
Victor, our hero, wants revenge, but not the straightforward, eye-for-an-eye kind. He favors the byzantine B-movie brand in which the wronged party changes his name and masquerades as a street thug so he can get close to his target and learn enough about his business to burn the whole thing down singlehandedly.
Even that’s not needlessly convoluted enough for this guy. Victor also feels compelled to mail Howard’s character strategically diced pieces of a family photo, which Wyman, incredibly, has the cold-blooded gangster assemble jigsaw-style through the movie with mounting alarm. We don’t have to check our watches; we know the end is near when Victor sends the part of the picture revealing his own face.
Speaking of faces, I haven’t even gotten to the film’s nuttiest part. Noomi Rapace plays Beatrice, a French beautician whose once-attractive face was scarred semi-noticeably in a car crash. She and Victor are neighbors who gaze woundedly at each other through facing windows. When they finally go on a date, it turns out she’s seeking not a boyfriend but a hit man. Beatrice knows he butchers bad guys in his spare time (pull those shades down, Vic!) and will go to the cops unless he agrees to kill the drunk driver responsible for her accident. Well, relationships have been built on less.
The movie is almost two hours long, and nothing much happens until the see-it-coming-a-mile-away last-act bloodbath. It’s nothing you haven’t seen a million times before, so I’m not sure what the attraction was supposed to be here — plot holes and pretentious patter?
Wyman’s dialogue is spectacularly lackluster, Oplev’s direction is undistinguished and an atmosphere of what can only be described as “generic noir” pervades the film. Dead Man Down desperately needed someone to inject life into it — but, once again, Farrell didn’t quite get around to rising to the occasion.