Niels Arden Oplev transports his brooding brand of Nordic-noir to New York City in his first American feature, Dead Man Down.
Dead Man Down sees Victor (Colin Farrell), the right-hand man of a New York crime boss Alphonse (Terence Howard), encounter scarred beauty therapist Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) on their respective paths of retribution.
Oplev crafts a dark and slow-burning thriller with a strong emphasis on intricate narrative details provided through J.H. Wyman’s (the writer behind the excellent The Mexican) rich screenplay. Wyman takes time to build a sense of intrigue and mystery with viewers generally unaware of how exactly Victor plans to get his revenge – with continual enigmas being crafted. However, at the heart of Dead Man Down lies a delicately crafted romance between Victor and Beatrice, with Farrell and Rapace bring a sense of desperation to the roles – both slowly growing to rely on each other, making the relationship between the pair utterly heartfelt and convincing.
Whilst this slow-building might lose Dead Man Down a few fans, the action scenes are ultimately very rewarding. The feature opens with a blistering shoot-out in a dingy drug den, sound-tracked with reggae music – that thrusts us into the dark criminal underworld of New York. The most spectacular of these action scenes occurs in Oplev’s well-staged conclusion, which sees a fast-paced shoot out in Alphonse’s luxurious house, filled with explosions, top-storey falls, and in-house car collisions.
Oplev’s film is rich with an atmosphere of brooding unease and foreboding danger, also channelled through some simmering performances. Farrell brings a cold, quietness to the role of Victor, a man driven by revenge – a role which allows Farrell to impress dramatically and physically through the variety of action sequences. Rapace provides a strong emotional edge to Dead Man Down, with Beatrice’s pain and heartbreak likely to tug at viewer’s heartstrings. Bringing a certain malevolence to the feature is the brilliantly underrated Terence Howard who serves as the film’s main scene stealer. Isabelle Huppert, Dominic Cooper and F. Murray Abraham are among the other familiar faces who bring further weight to the proceedings.
Dead Man Down is a brooding, delicately crafted feature that will reward viewer’s patience with some magnificent action sequences and powerful performances.
This review was previously written for The People’s Movies.