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Dead Man Down (2013)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 7/9/2013

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/6/2013

For most aspiring filmmakers who live in America, the dream is to go to Hollywood...except for those, "It's all about the art, man!" types. But, what about writers and directors from other countries. Do they dream of moving to Los Angeles to join the entertainment machine? Or once they've achieved success in their home country, does Hollywood go and get them? Over the years, we've seen foreign directors like John Woo, Hideo Nakata, and Takashi Shimizu lured to the States following their hit movies. The latest addition to this group appears to be Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, who struck gold with the original Swedish film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He's now made his Hollywood debut with Dead Man Down. Was it worth the trip?

Colin Farrell stars in Dead Man Down as Victor, a low-level member of a gang which is lead by slum-lord Alphonse (Terrence Howard). Someone has been sending Alphonse threatening and cryptic letters and it's made the crime-boss anxious and edgy. When Victor saves Alphonse's life during a shoot-out, it puts him on the fast-track in the organization. Meanwhile, Victor's neighbor, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) approaches him in a flirtatious manner, which is difficult for her, as her faces bears scars which were the result of a car wreck. However, Beatrice reveals that she knows that Victor is a killer and she wants him to murder the drunk driver who hit her. Victor doesn't really have time for this, as his involvement with Alphonse is part of a much larger secret mission, yet he finds himself oddly drawn to Beatrice.

As an aspiring screenwriter, I scrutinize a film's story while viewing it, and often critique most movies for being underwritten and lacking in detail. Thus, I really hate to come down on a movie for being overwritten, but there is simply too much story in Dead Man Down. In fact, veteran writer J.H. Wyman, who wrote for Fringe, among other things, has basically welded two movies together with this script. The problem is, only one of them is good.

Part of the movie is about Victor's involvement with organized crime, his true agenda, and his secret life. It's from this part of the story that the movie gets its awkward title. Despite some uninspired twists, I felt as if I'd seen all of this before. Obviously, Howard has screen presence, but he's playing just another kingpin who acts really calm and cool just before he freaks out. The only real difference here is that the focus is on controlling buildings as opposed to the usual drugs. (This made me think of The Crow.) I couldn't help but wonder why they thought we needed yet another crime movie or why Farrell, who's been in some similar things, would want to do another one.

The other part of the script deals with Beatrice's story and her blackmailing of Victor. Dead Man Down really drops the ball by not focusing more on this tale, or, more wisely, making it the only story in the movie. This could have had a real Hitckcockian tone to it. In fact, it's starts out that way as Beatrice learns of Victor's profession by observing him kill a man from her balcony -- shades of Rear Window. The movie could have further explored how the initial blackmail lead into a relationship between the two in a much more detailed manner. As it stands, this plotline comes and goes in the movie, and it doesn't get the attention which it deserves and it rings somewhat hollow that Victor so easily agrees to do it. There could have been mind-games and questions about Beatrice's state-of-mind given her injuries.

Instead of a crafty thriller, Dead Man Down is simply a movie of two minds, one of which is dull and the other of which is underdeveloped. Also, it doesn't help that Oplev clearly didn't get the memo that the kind of languid pace which is acceptable in European movies doesn't really fly in America. Clocking in at 117-minutes, Dead Man Down manages to feel repetitive, yet it doesn't shed enough light where it needs two. Following my enjoyment of Seven Psychopaths, I was hoping for another winner from Farrell, but instead I got a tepid thriller which has no idea what it wants to be.

Dead Man Down takes place in a world with especially cruel children on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good, most notably reds and greens, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very good, allowing us to see Beatrice's scars, and the image has a nice depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The opening shootout displays the power of this track, as we get bullets flying from the front and surround channels. The effects are nicely detailed and show good separation -- this isn't simply a case of the rear mimicking the front. The subwoofer effects are also good during the action scenes, especially in the finale.

The Dead Man Down Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. "Revenge and Redemption: Crafting Dead Man Down" (12 minutes) looks at the directing style of Niels Arden Oplev. We get comments from the filmmaker, as well as the cast. The piece gives a general overview of the movie while bringing to light how Oplev approached the material. "Revenge Technique: The Cinematography" (7 minutes) examines the look of the movie, including the work of Director of Photography Paul Cameron and Production Designer Niels Sejer. We see storyboards for the action scenes and hear from Stunt Coordinator Brian Smyj in "Staging the Action: The Firefights" (6 minutes).

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.