DEAD MAN DOWN B-
USA (110 mi) 2013 ‘Scope d: Niels Arden Oplev
Even the most damaged heart can be mended. Even the most damaged heart.
—Darcy (Dominic Cooper)
Using strange flashbacks that aren’t even initially understood, Victor repeatedly stares at his computer screen watching home videos of his wife and daughter, dead to the world in more ways than one as he’s completely unresponsive to most people, so his best friend is fellow gangster Darcy (Dominic Cooper), a nervous and fidgety guy who’s also a nonstop blabbermouth given a second chance at life by his generously understanding wife and newborn, suggesting “even the most damaged heart can be mended.” This understanding clicks in Victor’s brain, as he’s obviously on a circuitous route to hell and damnation, where he has his apartment set up as a surveillance lab, with tapped cellphones where he can hear every conversation within Alphonse’s inner circle and a secret room hidden behind the refrigerator that offers photos, memorabilia, and other clues about each of the gangland players, like a commemorative memorial, even though they are still alive. This is an indication of Victor’s mindset, however, as in his head they are already dead. Initially we think he may be a cop infiltrating this gang, watching every move they make, until eventually we realize the convoluted path this picture is taking by making Colin Farrell a one-man wrecking crew, a Rambo-like killing machine with designs on revenge. When he finally meets Beatrice, her burning need for revenge is not so hard for him to understand, though the film reaches a hysterical level of anxiety when she blackmails him with cellphone video footage of him killing a man in his apartment, vowing to turn it over to the police unless he executes the driver who mangled her face. Once you understand Victor’s detached emotional level is on par with Rambo, Sylvester Stallone as scorned Vietnam vet John Rambo in FIRST BLOOD (1982), the only decent one of the series, dead bodies are simply part of the playing field. While Victor, still a young guy, claims he learned about guns in the Hungarian army, they haven’t exactly fought in any wars recently, so his moody seclusion with CIA-like skills on weapons, surveillance techniques, explosive devices, not to mention shooting skills with automatic weapons make him something of a man with a mysterious past.
Written by J.H. Wyman, one of the feature writers of J.J. Abrams’ current sci-fi TV series Fringe (2008 to present), and shot by Paul Cameron, a co-cinematographer of Michael Mann’s COLLATERAL (2004), the film has a sophisticated, European arthouse look, with plenty of well composed shots from unusual angles, mixing dilapidated buildings, empty warehouses, and plenty of street action along with conflicting stories about gangland killings, mysterious letters with cryptic messages sent to Alphonse with only partially completed photos, where Alphonse initially targets who he thinks is behind it all, blowing away an entire detail of criminal drug operators in the process, which draws the ire of none other than mob boss Armand Assante, a legendary gangster figure and Emmy winner playing John Gotti, who has also been receiving the same letters, which couldn’t have been sent by anyone from his drug unit after they were already killed, sending him into a furious rage, where both men have to find a leak in their organization. In a sequence out of SAW (2004 and counting), Victor has a bound and blindfolded hostage that he’s keeping in an abandoned warehouse, one of the Albanian killers that actually murdered his wife and child. In fact, this guy has so many events going on at once, with his buddy Darcy continually blowing in his ear on his cellphone, filling him in on the latest developments, where most would be hard-pressed to keep track of them all, juggling a developing romance in between all his other gangster interests, all seemingly impossible, yet these various projects do amp up the intensity level, even if the viewer finds much of it preposterous. But this typifies what passes for Hollywood entertainment, where men have to rise to the level of superheroes, showing the capabilities of Rambo, where a huge part of the appeal are the special effects sequences blowing things up and high risk, showdown moments of blowing people away. With terrific acting performances on display throughout, including an interesting twist featuring the European talent of Rapace, Huppert, and Assante, not to mention a director that knows how to build suspense, the redemptive love interest of damaged souls may simply be too much, turning more existential, as there’s plenty more carnage yet to come. Despite the unpredictable twists and turns, there are too many holes and improbabilities, including scenes that make little sense, left dangling in midair as if something significant was edited or left out, yet overall, as an action and psychological thriller with a fixation on revenge, the well developed characters keep things interesting.