In New York City, Victor (Farrell) a crime lord’s right-hand man, is seduced by Beatrice (Rapace), a woman seeking retribution.
Victor and Beatrice live in crummy high-rise apartments. She can see into his place and he can see into hers. Victor sees Beatrice watching him. He is a cautious man and is disturbed by this strange intense woman. The criminal gang he is part of is under scrutiny and he wonders if she is part of some kind of surveillance operation.
Victor’s boss is Alphonse (Howard), a gangster who deals in drugs and property. His best friend is Darcy (Dominic Cooper), another gang member. He has no other connections. No girlfriend and no family. His apartment is sparse, virtually a monk’s cell. He lives a stripped down life and seemingly exists only to work. He is an efficient killer whom we see dispatching Alphonse’s enemies with impressive speed.
Beatrice is out of kilter. She is always angry since an accident damaged her face. She hasn’t worked since the incident and spends most of her time inside her apartment brooding. She lives with her mother Valentine (Huppert), who despairs of her daughter returning to a normal life.
DEAD MAN DOWN is a strange hybrid. It’s a romance with a body count; a blood-soaked thriller and a relationship tale. Gangsters are killed practically left and right. Beatrice begins to fall for Victor, but not in a Bonnie and Clyde kind of way. This pair of life’s losers aren’t gun crazy, they’re broken by the awful circumstances of their respective pasts. For either to make human contact is an act of courage. But that’s the gooey stuff in the centre of the metaphorical Cadbury Crème Egg. Before you see any of this, you will be confronted by a weird tale that doesn’t signpost its twists.
This can be a good thing, but frankly the machinations of DEAD MEN DOWN are as unbelievable as fanboy favourite DRIVE with which it shares some story DNA. I never fully invested in what was happening plot-wise, but Farrell and Rapace are so compelling that I went on the journey anyway. Danish director Niels Arden Oplev reveals Beatrice and Victor in multiple close-ups, we are cued to their thoughts and feelings continually. The audience is given the very thing most action films lack, breathing space where we can connect with the characters. I found myself wanting the story of Beatrice and Victor to work out because of this.
Terence Howard is good as dapper criminal Alphonse. Isabelle Huppert is great in what is a small, supporting role. She is perfectly cast as the resilient Valentine. Oplev has created a quirky, violent tale that has competent action sequences, some sly comedic moments and two damaged protagonists who desperately need better a better life.
DEAD MAN DOWN is in limited release in Australian cinemas. It runs for 118 minutes. I rate it 6/10.