Love Among the Doomed
Beautifully turned out, the first American film from the director of the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo–the unhelpfully titled Dead Man Down–is moody, dark and tangled, with marvelous action set pieces and absolutely first-rate performances by Colin Farrell, our most underrated male lead under 40, and Noomi Rapace, the original dragon tattoo lady.
It is two revenge tales in one, each dovetailing at its bullet-ridden climax with bodies strewn Hamlet-like all over the place, except for the two leads (surprise, surprise) who find other fates. However, what has preceded this (act two) is tangled and difficult to follow. Too bad, because Farrell especially gives an(other) excellent portrayal of a complex lead.
Director Niels Arden Oplev shows us a New York City through a couple of its subcultures–the Albanian/Hungarian contingents (criminal divisions). The mixture doesn’t stop there: Jamaican drug lords surface, as does as an African-American bad guy (Terrence Howard, a little pudgy) and the gangsters working for Howard, among them Dominic Cooper (The History Boys).
Here’s the deal: Victor (Farrell) seems to be a henchman for Howard (but don’t you believe it). We sense that he’s obsessed with revenge about some other issue; when he meets the Rapace character, she, too, wants revenge–for a man who caused her car accident, which scarred her face beyond complete repair. After she sees Victor kill another man, she blackmails him into killing the perp of her accident. Thus does the tangle increase and twist. When she discovers that Victor is not whom he pretends to be, another subplot uncoils. That makes four subplots by my count–it’s well nigh dizzying.
The action sequences (designed by the director) are wonderfully staged and as intense as anything in the dragon tattoo piece–and equally brutal. Two revenge motifs, obsessed lead characters . . . can love be far behind? Yes, it can–for a while. If their circumstances weren’t so damned contrived, we could get behind this movie a bit more, but some of us don’t like to be manipulated this much. Sometimes them foreign directors get our goat(s).
The actors do their very best to convince, and do so for my money. It’s best, however, when actors don’t have to fight the plot, which, alas, they have to here, with the Honolulu audience trotting behind developments switching hither and yon, with said audience addressing the screen thusly: Who? Where? This might be the only American movie this year that needs subtitling.
I say all this with a certain amount of love–and respect. This thing is so good in most places that one wants it to be, well, better . . . more together, less confusing. Maybe with certain characters eliminated altogether, before the camera turns or rolls. After all, this is a busy movie. And ambitious. And cinematic as all get out.
Let’s put it this way: If you’re a cinema buff, you’ll probably like this American/foreign movie. If you’re looking for easy entertainment, you might not like it.
If you are somewhat interested, wait and rent the DVD–in case you might want to bail.
Reader, you know who you are.