FILMMovie Reviews

Dead Man Down

Written by Andreas Babiolakis

Final Rating: 4.7/10

Neo Noir is, hands down, my absolute favorite film style. Film Noir as a gritty, obsessive film style itself is terrific, but Neo Noir, the reinvention of what plagues a man and torments a woman, has produced so many instant classics of our time. You have the science fiction films Bladerunner and Inception. You have the psychological thrills of Chinatown and Mulholland Dr. Then you have The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; a brilliant piece of modern day cinema where the femme fatale does not love all and attract all, but instead does the complete opposite by deterring everyone due to self and external hatred. Niels Arden Oplev brought Stieg Larsson’s groundbreaking novel to life, with quite a few changes, with the help of the film world’s recent female breakout star Noomi Rapace. With the two pairing up together again to deliver another Neo Noir film, things would be good, right?

Not really. What we have learned is that Arden Oplev’s fantastic directing and Rapace’s bravura performance may have added intensity to the already gripping story of Dragon Tattoo, but in the end, a lot of what made the film already timeless is the story itself. It changed up what Neo Noir essentially was, as many great Neo Noir films have done. Neo Noir is an expansive genre, one open to such interpretations and imaginations. Dead Man Down has a few interesting ideas that are spawn from the basics of Neo Noir, but they either stop too early and don’t progress even more, or they take the wrong turn entirely. The most dread we get from this film comes from, again, the acting and the directing. The film is quite unsettling and claustrophobic, just like a good Noir film. It is also acted with passion, fear and guilt, just like a good Noir film. The problem? The story. Film Noir and Neo Noir absolutely NEED a strong, gripping story. These film styles are two of the most literary in film. Without proper twists and turns, climaxes and depth, the story just won’t be good enough. How can we dig deep into the heads of Victor and Beatrice? We’re on board with them at the start of the movie, and their motivations work well, but the movie progresses, and our sense of fear and risk is lost and is replaced by feelings of absurdity.

Do I think it was neat that the femme fatale was used to be on par with the lead male with similar motivations, and her push is what helped start everything off? Yes. Do I think it was neat that the repulsion that the usual femme fatale usually carries was not by their conniving personalities but rather by a noticeable injury? Yes. The femme fatale, as a character, was re-imagined rather nicely here and Noomi Rapace, yet again, delivers a terrific performance. I’m not a big fan of Colin Farrel, but I have nothing but good things to say about his more recent performances, and his work as Victor here is no different, as he brings a sense of instinctive rage to the film which is quite a modern spin on the classic Noir lead; He is run on hatred, not by guilt. Sadly, as these are the two main characters, they also are easily the strongest, and they’re too strong. No matter what happens to them, you know all will be okay, and that is the absolute worst thing you can have happen during a Neo Noir.

Dead Man Down is splattered with scenarios that should be damaging but aren’t, secondary characters that are well acted but are just bland, and plot twists that are about as shocking as Wal*Mart lowering prices. These are elements that are just far too important in Neo Noir and here they are really phoned in. The two leads are great and the cinematography is superb. Apart from that, this is a disappointing Neo Noir film that could have been, and should have been, excellent. To not have any sense of real dread in Neo Noir is pretty unforgivable. I do think everyone tried their best, though, but the risks were not great enough. They didn’t even compliment the usual style, let alone add much to it apart from the two leads. I think the want to appeal to an American audience is what makes this film fall flat, and it shouldn’t have had to have been that way. Didn’t we love the Swedish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so much that it sparked the nationwide careers of a few Swedish actors, a Swedish director and even modern Swedish cinema? Perhaps Arden Oplev’s next effort will stick more to his guns rather than try to convert an audience that was already listening, and I still have high hopes for any of his future endeavours.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.