Dead Man Down Review: The Psychological Thriller I Wasn’t Expecting
Dead Man Down is the american theatrical debut of director Niels Arden Oplev, who made the original film versions of the Milennium Trilogy, better known as the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.
Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) and Victor (Colin Farrell) live in separate buildings, but their apartments are across from one another. They spend time furtively glancing into each other’s world, until they finally decide to meet. The cat and mouse game they play with each other mirrors the action in the rest of the film. Beatrice is a scarred beauty. Victor is just as scarred, but his are on the inside where most people won’t ever see them. Both harbor the intent to kill someone.
While the trailers for Dead Man Down might have led you to believe that the man who they want to kill is the same, that’s not true at all. What brings them together besides their slightly contrived living proximity is part attraction, part desperation, and part ruthlessness. One thing that annoyed me is that Shine on You Crazy Diamond, the Pink Floyd song in the trailer, is nowhere in the actual damn movie. Minor at best, but it still bothered me.
Victor works for Alphonse (Terence Howard) a drug dealer who’s been getting threatening notes for a few months from an unknown source. Alphonse is panicking about it, and we see just how badly the notes affect him when he goes to visit a supplier. During the resulting shootout, Victor saves Alphonse and gains a large portion of his trust.
Meanwhile, the romance between Beatrice and Victor gets off to a pleasing, if somewhat awkward start. We learn who scarred Beatrice and that she has blackmail material over Victor and wants him to kill the person who scarred her. A lot has been made of the fact that Beatrice has what some call “Hollywood scars,” in that they make her only marginally less pretty and don’t really affect her too much really. Except for Beatrice, it doesn’t matter how little the scars actually affect her appearance. They could be barely visible and she would know they were there and act just as wounded. I don’t think making her some sort of grotesque monster would have been in the interest of the film’s themes at all. It’s not about how bad the scars are; it’s about how they make her feel, and how they remind her of the person who gave them to her and how much they are not affected by this incident which essentially ruined her life. That’s why she asks Victor to kill that person, not because of the scars, but because of what they symbolize for her. Beatrice’s motive is deep and comes from a place of great pain, pain she wants to see inflicted on the person who hurt her. It’s an incredibly authentic and layered motivation.
And Victor’s reaction is not that of a hardened thug who kills for a living. He’s horrified, though he agrees because she’s got something over him and probably because while he pities her, he’s also attracted to her in a meaningful way.
Victor’s need for revenge is a little simpler, but he’s more conflicted about it than Beatrice is about hers. I won’t go too much into detail because there’s lots of story that hangs on who Victor wants dead and I don’t feel like spoiling too much.
Dead Man Down is much less action movie than psychological thriller, we spend a lot of time with the characters as they work out their problems and try to make a life for themselves in the aftermath of their tragedies. This does result in a slowdown of the pace at times, because there’s only so much brooding an audience needs to watch before they get it and start becoming a little bored.
Dominic Cooper’s side plot picks up the slack of the pace though, and the internal conflict it creates for one of the main characters is superbly interesting to watch play out.