With the success of the original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo under his belt, plus the chance to work with leading lady Noomi Rapace once more, it was never going to be long before Danish director Niels Arden Oplev tried his hand at Hollywood revenge to further demonstrate his film-making skill.
More exciting is how Oplev could potentially channel some of that eerie, austere atmosphere of the 2009 hit film into this one, Dead Man Down, helped by one of cinema’s ever-brooding bad boys Colin Farrell who mirrors his turn in London Boulevard as self-reflective, man of few words, ex-con Mitchel, trying not to fall for the girl.
This time Farrell plays Hungarian Victor, a hired gun with an axe to grind much closer to home than his crime boss (played less than convincingly by Terrence Howard) would like or suspect. His chosen profession is sussed out by his disfigured but pretty neighbour, former beautician Beatrice (Rapace) who not only finds him strangely alluring but also wants revenge on the drunkard who caused her injuries. She propositions Victor, threatening to expose his seedy ways, unless he does her deadly deed. Victor starts losing control over his own personal objective, as well as his feelings.
Dead Man Down might be a revenge movie on the surface, but it’s a modern-day, edgy love story at heart that must overcome the most difficult of beginnings and the worse odds of success. The onscreen dynamic between Farrell and Rapace is highly believable, an engaging oxymoron in a sense: dangerously innocent as it tentatively progresses in a somewhat sweet fashion, partly due to Isabelle Huppert as Beatrice’s quirky French mother. It’s this core, fledgling relationship that gives the thriller its substance and soul, allowing you to forgive the uneven (and in parts, woodenly acted) opener, and really settle down to see where things lead.
Both actors manipulate their characters’ personas well, keeping them intriguing and unwittingly mysterious. Like Lisbeth Salander, Beatrice is emotionally scarred but far from a victim. This defiant survival attitude that Rapace embraces effortlessly combines sumptuously with Farrell’s natural despondency to make for a hypnotic watch. The plot’s catalyst is not necessarily Victor’s apparent exposure at any moment, thanks to the beady eye of fellow hit man Darcy (amicably portrayed Dominic Cooper), but Beatrice’s passive aggressive nature as she lures Victor out of the darkness he inhabits.
The climatic ending that brings the house down is pretty spectacular – as collateral damage and body count go. Though nothing new, it’s beautifully realised and shot. Short of changing the pace of the introspective affair, this finale may jar a little, but it’s perhaps a visual consequence of Victor’s pent up frustrations – like the storm following the calm. When the despicable truth behind Victor’s grievance is revealed it naturally requires a bloody revenge of grandeur, especially to prevent history repeating itself and allow old wounds to heal. Oplev merely delivers what is a must with some panache.
Dead Man Down allows Oplev to comfortably make his English-language debut doing what he has done best before: serving up sweet revenge, but never forgetting to explore the emotion behind the reaction as the primary goal. In turn, this makes for a more satisfying watch than your average, bloody revenge thriller and widens the usual box office appeal of such a genre with the prospect of a forbidden love affair at the helm.