What a monumental waste of good talent.
That’s all I kept thinking as I sat through the new action-thriller “Dead Man Down.”
The film was a little bit like a cinematic equivalent of an intoxicated or visually-impaired driver – story-wise, it seemed to go all over the place. It started out as a gangster film, with supremely gifted character actor Terrence Howard, who looked like he was having the same kind of fun that Russell Crowe had in “The Man with the Iron Fists,” led a group of thugs and gunmen into the neo-lit drug den (I mean seriously, aren’t they always neon-lit, though?) to ask the head honcho of said drug den a few questions that needed answering.
During this opening scene, the film seemed to possess the same vibe as any one of Jason Statham’s movies or even that underrated “Punisher” flick with Ray Stevenson, while reminding me of 2008’s “Street Kings” at the same time. That being said, I didn’t have any problems with these comparative thoughts running around in my head, as I happen to like those kinds of films – if they’re done right.
Not to mention, the thought of Niels Arden Oplev, who happens to be the director of one of my favorite films of the last decade (the Swedish version of) “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” taking the helm of a grandiose, Hollywood-style gangsta film made me giddy with anticipation.
Then I kept watching… and the film went this way…. then it went that way… then back to this way – you get the point. Sorry to use another metaphor, but it was like that kid from high school who dyed his hair a different color every week, while going from goth-to-punk-to-grunge-back to-punk – you get the point. It was like the makers of “Dead Man Down” couldn’t decide on what kind of movie they wanted.
The tagline on the poster did say “Revenge is Coming,” so there was a good chance that the theme of revenge would come into play, which it did – early and often. However, the screenwriter J.H. Wyman thought that adding a romantic relationship between Colin Farrell’s Victor and Noomi Rapace’s Beatrice (reunited with Oplev) just felt like a rudderless vessel, in which two talented actors were paddling incessantly to try to get it to someplace meaningful, but just couldn’t. Ladies and gentleman – metaphor number three!
It did, however, make sense for Victor and Beatrice to become partners in crime – with the two of them wanting someone dead who ruined their life and all, but romantically involved, c’mon. If you see this movie and find out how the two of them end up “meeting,” you will be forced to utter – not to yourself, but out loud – the one word that all teenage girls utter so well. “Really?,” you will say in disbelief. I won’t play the spoiler and tell you the circumstances involved in their “chance” encounter, simply because it is probably the best and most intense scene of the film.
Again, I’ll go back to the words I used back in the beginning – waste of talent. Every few minutes, it seemed like another strong actor was playing a one-dimensional character that was “waaaay” below what their talent level indicated. I already mentioned Howard, who I absolutely loved in “Big Momma’s House” – no, I’m just kidding – I loved him as DJ in “Hustle & Flow.” Now, that was a meaty role that he just sunk his teeth into like an intern in a lion’s cage. (Too soon?) The role of Alphonse had its moments where Howard could throw out some attitude and get all up in people’s faces, but they were few and far between and, if truth be told, not edgy enough for someone of Howard’s caliber. Through no huge fault of Howard, the character of Alphonse was no Alonso from “Training Day,” that’s for sure.
That was another problem that “Dead Man Down” had, there wasn’t any sadisitic stand-out villain in the film. It seemed as if everybody was painted a grayish hue, especially the bad guys. Howard can play a menacing baddie in his sleep, but here he was stagnant and bland. That goes for all of the guys in his “crew,” with the exception of Dominic Cooper – who I almost didn’t recognize with that Italian accent and thick, bushy, dark goatee. Cooper played Victor’s best bud Darcy and represented the film’s moral center amongst the crew of evil henchmen, considering that Darcy had a newborn baby and Victor lost his family in a violent shootout.
Actually, come to think of it, it wasn’t the role of Darcy that I liked, it was Cooper himself. I’ve just liked him ever since I saw him in “The Devil’s Double,”now there was a deep and challenging piece of acting. Even Rapace’s portrayal of Beatrice, whose back story is a common one in the world of literature – the beauty who becomes an ugly and scarred monster and eventually learns the true value of love and life, seemed soulless and forced.
On a side note, Beatrice was supposed to be this hideous-looking, tragic creature who was bullied by the basketball-playing hooligans of the neighborhood just because of the way she looked. I mean, someone scribbled the word “monster” on her door, for goodness sake. My issue with this is that Beatrice’s wounds and scar tissue honestly didn’t look all that bad to me. Even underneath Freddy Krueger’s makeup, you couldn’t take away the breathtaking beauty that Rapace possesses. So, about a dozen criss-cross patterned flesh wounds didn’t turn Beatrice into the walking nightmare that she’s supposed to be. I normally wouldn’t be so picky regarding simple makeup techniques in action films (if it was horror, I’d be all over it), but considering Beatrice’s batshit-crazy nature due to the accident – which makes her approach Victor the way she does, which is a major plot point – It’d be wrong not to bring it up in some way, shape or form.
Like I said, “waste of talent” – and that includes the director Oplev and the screenwriter Wyland. Especially Oplev, who was brilliant in “Dragon Tattoo” at creating a sense of dread and tension that existed throughout every intense frame of that film.
I was hoping for more of the same in this film, but alas… it was hardly noticeable throughout. The film’s look and feel was top-notch, however. It had a slick and polished look to it, very professional – almost too professional, if you ask me. Missing was that grit and grime that existed in his previous work, as “Dead Man Down” was just too clean-looking and (dare I say) too Hollywood.
A lot of this had to do with Wyman’s script, which was predictable and riddled with clichés and dialogue that could’ve been plucked from a college guidance counselor’s wall. Just watch the opening scene with Victor and Darcy, as they get all sentimental while Darcy holds his newborn baby. I forget the actual lines that were uttered, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t far away from the level of, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” or something like that.
Therefore, I can’t say that this was the greatest piece of writing I’ve ever encountered, so it probably wasn’t totally Oplev’s fault that the direction wasn’t up to the precedent he set. One of my buddies used to say to me, “You can’t polish a turd.” Now, I’m not saying that Wyman’s script for “Dead Man Down” was on a turd-ish level, but it certainly wasn’t the Hope Diamond either.
Maybe the two of them can redeem themselves with their next projects. Oplev is taking on the TV series version of “Under the Dome,” which is based on a pretty good Stephen King book of the same name, while I’m really excited for Wyman’s supposed next project – a remake /reimagining of “The Warriors” (the 1979 original is easily one of my all-time faves).
Let’s just hope that both of the upcoming projects from these guys don’t manage to waste all that good talent that was so maddeningly misused in “Dead Man Down.”
Note on casting: I would be interested in hearing Terrence Howard scream, “Caaaaan yooooou diiiig iiiiit?!,” though.