Austrian filmmaker Stefan Ruzowitzky – the director behind the Academy Award winning The Counterfeiters, returns with his first proper Hollywood film (well, that’s if you discount the rather obscure Matt LeBlanc and Eddie Izzard feature All the Queen’s Men) with his tense and riotously entertaining thriller Deadfall. A film that, although certainly flawed, has enough about it to ensure this director deserves a second opportunity in Tinseltown.
As siblings Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) go on the run following a blotched casino heist, the fugitives venture out into the snowy wilderness, with the aim of crossing the boarder into Canada. Upon separation following an untimely car accident, Liza meets boxer Jay (Charlie Hunnam) – who has recently been released from prison – but her attempts to seduce and manipulate him into assisting her cause, are thrown into disarray when the pair fall in love. With Addison still causing havoc elsewhere, it’s only a matter of time before the sibling’s paths cross once again.
Although taking the viewer on a thrilling ride, Ruzowitzky and first-time screenwriter Zach Dean can be accused of leaning towards a needless sentimentalism, with some laughable ’emotional’ sequences that compromise the key narrative at hand, particularly that of the psychologically deep rooted and convoluted relationship between our lead relatives. The colliding of both Addision and Liza’s separate predicaments makes for captivating viewing, as we intensely anticipate the grand finale, however the romantic sub-plot and the supposedly profound conversations between Jay and Liza are incredibly cringeworthy, with a host of mawkish one-liners that seem so out of place. It’s a shame as it’s almost as though the filmmakers aren’t playing up to the feature’s strengths, carelessly steering away from the more thrilling aspects.
That said, Deadfall is evidently building towards its climax, where everything is to culminate together – and it does not disappoint in the slightest, with an absorbing final act, and one that makes up for the earlier flaws. The big Thanksgiving sequence at the end becomes somewhat farcical, becoming so absurd (in a good way) that you find yourself laughing out loud, which also seeks in helping to soften the tenseness of the situation.
The climatic finale is where Bana comes into his element too, as you simply can’t help but be endeared to his character, despite knowing that you shouldn’t. Though the jury is still out as to whether the comical edge to Addison benefits the film, as it detracts from the severity of the role somewhat, as a character who seems more inclined to tell a joke than to actually take his life-threatening situation seriously. Nonetheless, it certainly does make for entertaining viewing, as Bana just has this recklessness and unpredictability to his demeanour, complete with so much natural charisma. Wilde is also impressive, portraying a character far removed from that of her brother, and she has this delicate fragility to her that the role requires. Sadly such commendation does not extend as far as Hunnam, who isn’t blessed with the strongest of the lead three roles. He is reminiscent of a younger Channing Tatum, before he was good.
Deadfall is not a conventional thriller at all, certainly feeling like a unique piece of filmmaking. Although evidently taking pointers from previous films – such as Fargo, for example, in the way this dry humour is implemented into an otherwise violent thriller that uses the cold, chilling setting to its advantage – it has a palpable streak of innovation to it – a sentence not commonly used in regards to contemporary Hollywood thrillers. So that in itself, is a rather good start.