I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Dead Man Down

WWEstudiostn_deadmandownNothing has changed since yesterday. I’m still against WWE Studios flying their prestigious banner above movies starring non-wrestlers. But I gotta admit that DEAD MAN DOWN is probly the best movie they’ve had their initials on so far. It stars Crusher Colin Farrell, Notorious Noomi Rapace and Terrence Dastructshon Howard in a moody revenge romance. (The token actual wrester is somebody named Wade Barrett as some character called “Kilroy.”) I think the movie it reminded me of most is LEON, but it’s a little more downbeat, and no uncomfortable underage business. But that’s a pretty abstract comparison, I don’t even know what it is that connects them. This is the rare movie that feels like it doesn’t really follow an existing template. Or if it does it’s a bunch of different templates collaged together in a weird way that’s hard to recognize.

When the story begins Victor (Farrell) is one of several henchmen called to kingpin Alphonse (Howard)’s residence, where their colleague Paulie has turned up dead in the basement freezer. Some poor sucker was probly going for a popsicle and ended up disappointed. The body has on it a cryptic note and a little square cut out from a photo, part of an ongoing threat campaign against the boss. He’s been collecting the puzzle pieces like it’s the McDonalds Monopoly game, carefully putting them together, looking at the clues, trying to figure out who’s after him, what they’re trying to say to him.

mp_deadmandownVictor lives in a tall apartment building, and one night Beatrice (Rapace), who sees him from a building across the way, waves to him. She used to be a beautician but quit and went to live with her mom (Isabelle Huppert) when a drunk driver hit her and scarred the left side of her face. She figures out his apartment number, leaves him a note, goes out for a drink with him. They’re obviously both lonely people but that’s not why this meeting is awkward – it’s because they both know this isn’t an innocent courtship. She’s there to tell him she saw him murder a guy (recorded it on her phone, in fact) and wants to blackmail him into doing something for her: kill the motherfucker that did that to her face. Come on man, I know you know how to kill people. I think you would be really good for this.

We’re not surprised he killed a guy, but he’s not who we thought he was. Pause for spoiler warning. He’s not just another one of these lovable movie hitmen. He’s actually the guy who killed Paulie and left all the weird letters. He’s undercover in the gang, not as a cop, but as a civilian on a Punisher-style mission of revenge because they killed his wife, his kid (and they think him) over a land grab deal. He created a new identity and infiltrated their gang. Motherfuckers willing to kill a guy they won’t even recognize later on.

This takes place in a world untouched by cops. I don’t remember if you even see one. They are irrelevant to these people. Victor has a secret room full of clippings, charts and phone taps, going through this elaborate plan like he’s Jigsaw or somebody. Meanwhile he works with his friend Darcy (Dominic Cooper), who we know is a crucial character because the movie opened with him holding a baby and talking about his wife’s influence on his life. But his wife influences him not to stay out of trouble but just to work hard and rise up the totem pole. He’s trying to impress the boss by following leads to find out who his letter-writer is. And to Victor’s dismay he’s getting close enough he might have to end up in a freezer like Paulie.

That’s plenty of plot there, but really the movie is more about these two broken people finding each other. They obviously have some interest in each other, but are they gonna requite that shit? Or are they too wrapped up in their trauma and their thirst for vengeance (T4V for short)? Victor is very shut off, but he signals his feelings by letting her into his Batcave, revealing what he’s up to. You don’t get much bigger demonstrations of trust than that. She reciprocates by helping him out, even surprising him and saving his ass after a sniping. Getaway driver on spec.

All this mayhem is supposed to help them deal with their tragedies, but both of them are taking their damn time finishing the job because – as Victor’s revenge-associate Gregor (F. Murray Abraham) points out – they’re afraid it won’t work. What if they kill the motherfucker and then nothing changes? And they start worrying about each other’s plots too. Should they be stopping each other? So it becomes a really interesting conflict. I equally wanted for them get their revenge and for them to decide they didn’t need it. Usually the love story is just part of the formula, but here I was actually more invested in them getting together than in killing the assholes who wronged them. Although there’s always a chance for both.

I don’t really consider this an action movie, but it does have some shootouts and a car crash and I like how they’re done. It’s more of the slow motion things-splintering-isn’t-it-beautiful school than a traditional thrilling approach. But I think it fits the material.

Farrell and Rapace are both really good. And despite the concept being pretty over-the-top it’s the small human moments that make it excel. There’s a whole bit about Beatrice bringing Victor her mother’s food in tupperware that ultimately reveals something very normal and vulnerable about her and really grounds all this. Or the whole thing about her putting on a nice dress and getting blood on it. Or when she’s losing it and shows up at her old job and just starts working, freaking everybody out. It’s like a nightmare I would have. Rapace is great at playing these interestingly layered characters. Sweet and sad, but also kinda psychotic.

It’s weird actually, there is nothing about DEAD MAN DOWN that screams WWE, or producer Neil Moritz, for that matter. It’s neither fast or furious. It’s quiet. Not really a crowdpleaser, more of a mood piece. I don’t know if you guys are gonna like it, but I did so I win.

Not a bad type up job from J.H. Wyman, an actor from PROM NIGHT IV: DELIVER US FROM EVIL who also wrote THE MEXICAN. And I think it’s an impressive American debut for Niels Arden Oplev, who it turns out is Danish even though we know him as the director of the Swedish GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (starring Rapace, of course). I liked that movie but didn’t think it was that distinctive filmatistically. This one has a strong look and mood that makes me take the guy more seriously. At least when he’s working with WWE Studios.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 9th, 2013 at 9:23 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

36 Responses to “Dead Man Down”

  1. The trailer uses a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. It was so weird hearing ANY version of that song on WWE programming when the trailer was on RAW.

  2. I loved this movie. I wish I had more insight to add, but all I can say is ditto. You nailed everything I loved about it. It was all in the characters & their connection. The little bit of action that was there was good, but it really came down to the emotional damage & hoping they could find a place of healing with each other. Both Rapace & Farrell did an excellent job & their chemistry was fantastic.

  3. UK readers will know the name Kilroy means evil.

  4. Yeah, this is a weird little movie. I dug it a lot – it took chances and featured delicate emotional material and some great actors in their element. One thing you don’t mention is that Terrence Howard gives a pretty ‘big’ performance. I enjoyed it, even if him going full SCARFACE at the end might have been a little inappropriate for the movie’s tone.

    One of the film’s biggest strengths is some stellar location shooting. Like you say, this is a stylized kind of world where only gangsters seem to exist, and the movie takes real locations (it’s set in NYC but I think mostly shot in philly) and shoots them in a way that emphasizes their offbeat character. The whole thing has a pretty distinct look that I really like.

    I did want more from the big action finale. I don’t think the movie needed a big action finale, but if you’re gonna do one you might as well make it awesome. There’s a few cool money shots but basically Farrell crashes into the house and effortlessly kills everyone because he’s supposed to. A little more imagination would’ve gone a long way. I also could’ve used more Isabelle Huppert.

  5. Did you get LES REINES DU RING (Queens of the Ring) in the US? It’s a French movie that WWE Studios coproduced. It stars CM Punk, The Miz and Eve (plus a bunch of French actors obviously).

  6. Yeah, I guess it’s a glass half-full, half-empty sort of thing. I wasn’t sky high on this originally because I thought there were too many elements, and none of them were followed through completely. But Vern’s review emphasizes how much is actually going on in the movie that it makes me want to see it again. I especially liked Dominic Cooper’s performance, I thought he gave a thankless role some considerable layers. Couldn’t figure out what was going on with F. Murray Abraham, though. I got his relationship to the plot, but his character seemed like an odd fit eventually.

  7. Ok, so this review finally registered to me who Vern would be if Vern were a pro wrestler. He’s the DDP of movie reviewing. No matter how many people think a movie sucks, he’ll always find something positive to say. Even in the movies he thinks sucks, he finds something positive in it. I think Vern should help aging film critics with hating all movie problems and nurse them back to health like DDP is doing now.

    Vern is DDP. What a guy.

  8. Are we supposed to know who DDP is? I feel like I’m in the supermarket and all the tabloids are expecting me to be on a first-name basis with all these people I’ve never seen before in my life.

  9. Mr. M – He’s talking about mother fuckin’ Diamond Dallas Page, former WCW World Heavyweight champion and stalker of Undertaker’s ex-wife. (Yes that was a real WWF storyline.)

    Google can be your friend.

    BANG!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xq5giKdDJlA

  10. Oh yeah. I guess I’ve heard that name before.

    I don’t really like sports.

  11. DDP also played the scarred bounty hunter in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS.

  12. Oh, that guy. I remember him. I just looked him up and he sounds awesome. I apologize for my earlier ignorance. I haven’t really paid attention to wrestling since Wrestlemania III (Remember Superfly Snooka hitting Macho Man in the neck with bell?) so he was a bit after my time.

  13. Diamond Dallas Page is also a current life coach and yoga instructor. He’s trying to get the lives of some fucked up ex-wrestlers like Jake “The Snake” Roberts back on track. It’s kind of like THE WRESTLER if Randy Robinson survived the jump and went to rehab and physical therapy run by his buddy who also makes life-affirming Youtube videos about it.

    As for DEAD MAN DOWN, like I said in the other thread, I thought it was okay. The relationship stuff was indeed the best part, and the entire movie needed to lean in more heavily into that. When the shooting started, it turned into something much more pedestrian. The ending shootout just kind of happened. Maybe it was the director who isn’t really a big action guy, or his complaints were valid that he didn’t get the time or the budget to shoot some scenes the way he wanted.

    In any case, either the action needed more style or kick, or the entire movie needed to be about these interesting characters and leave the action out of it entirely. What we got was uneven. Still the best film WWE has put out so far, though.

  14. Remember the woman in 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN who’s breasts pop out of her shirt during the speed-dating sequence? DDP’s ex-wife.

  15. Going to try to catch this one sometime this week. Been meaning to see it for a while. I do still want to see that Undertaker/Halle Berry buddy cop movie Vern is always talking about but for the most part I’m actually glad that WWE STUDIOS is trying to get more hollywood credibility by picking up these independent movies by credible filmatists. Instead of giving us more crap like HHH driving a school bus with the Lisa Simpson actress as his co-star.

    Oh and DDP should get some type of award for not only saving Jake The Snake but for also helping to keep Scott Hall out of a six foot deep hole. His system is way more effective than any rehab WWE sanctions themselves.

  16. His Yoga program has also produced some pretty incredible weight-loss stories, too. Just watch the video on his website about the former vet who got on it.

  17. Saw this back when it was in theaters, and it feels like a lifetime ago. I mostly remember thinking how nuts and over-the-top it got, which was pretty impressive considering how nutty the general premise is (girl hires guy to do a hit on someone who fucked her up in the past). It was sort of like the gift that kept on giving in that respect–“you think it’s crazy that a girl wants to kill a guy who accidentally scarred her face? Well, check out this crazy scheme Colin Farrell’s putting together to kill a bunch of motherfuckers.”

    I dunno, I didn’t really love it or anything, but that over-the-topness was pretty memorable.

  18. Nobody remembers that Mr Majestyc because it didn’t happen. Macho Man hit Ricky Steamboat in the throat with the ring bell.

  19. I always mix up Steamboat and Snooka. But didn’t Steamboat get revenge on Macho Man for a previous neck-belling? Or am I don’t just making that up?

    Either way you shouldn’t be hitting people in the neck with bells. Think of the children.

  20. The Savage – Steamboat match at Wrestlemania III was getting revenge on Savage. Also, it’s Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka not Snooka. Wrestling fans are a picky bunch. lol

  21. Mr. M – reminds me of when Daniel Bryan got fired by the WWE a few years back for “choking” another wrestler with a cable while the NXT were destroying everybody, which is a stupid reason except Linda McMahon was running for Senate at the time and WWE really made sure not to give her opponents any ammo to use against her. She lost anyway, and I suppose we’re lucky that Vince McMahon has no access to any actual power outside of his little corporate fiefdom.

    (I believe that same year, during a PPV match John Cena accidentally got cut and was bleeding. Or maybe it was planned, I don’t remember. Bit If I remember right, the cameras went off him as some assistants came down and cleaned up that blood, again so WWE wouldn’t get trashed for being too violent. )

    Ah NXT, now that initially was a hot angle. Until Summerslam that year when Cena got the clean win and the wind got sucked out of their sails.

  22. He used Justin Roberts tie and they had that unspoken rule since the Benoit thing.

  23. RRA – Stop referring to that failed Nexus angle as NXT. NXT is actually pretty good now a days.

  24. The great thing about that incident is how Bryan screams in Cena’s face “you are not better than me”. Seeing it for yourself does it more justice, but there was a transparent creepiness to it that bordered on early De Niro/Scorsese levels for professional wrestling.

  25. Wade Barrett is the big English guy in Alphonse’s gang. Just letting you know.

  26. Another WWE Studios release that won’t star a wrestler…just a guy who looks like one.
    http://uk.ign.com/articles/2013/08/13/wwe-will-release-jason-momoas-road-to-paloma
    Doesn’t sound like an actioner. More a drama with some possible mild action bits?

  27. I approve of making Jason Momoa the next action guy, he was great in BULLET TO THE HEAD. Put him in FURIOUS 8!

  28. NXT is really good. It’s been good for a while, and I’m glad they’re mixing the best of FCW with the best of old NXT. It’s the best show WWE produces.

    I’m surprised that they’re letting Bryan do the flying headbutt, on account of Benoit. Bryan is the most Benoit guy ever, plus more personality and probably better, and whenever he does that move it makes me really uncomfortable.

  29. Yeah, I co-host a podcast on NXT, and it’s a really good product, though you do have to put up with filler episodes sometimes. Really looking forward to the Sami Zayn/Antonio Cesaro match that’s coming up.

  30. Hard as it may be to believe that it’s taken so long, we now have our FIRST openly gay active WWE Superstar:
    http://www.wrestlingnewsmafia.com/2013/08/darren-young-announces-hes-gay.html

  31. Dead Man Down sounds like the title of a Steven Segal movie.

    I think the fact that the original swedish movie THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO has not a flashy visual style was an advantage. Made us con centrate more on the story itself. Even Fincher dialed down his usual visual pyrotecnics when he made his remake. It’s kinda like a signal of respect.

  32. Watched this tonight. I really liked Farrell and Rapace, they had great chemistry and they’ve both shaped into two of the best modern noir actors around. The ending, however, was way out of place. Not enough to spoil it, but it was going towards a far better, lower-key ending.

  33. Saw this back to back with THE CALL, seemingly just like Vern, though not in purpose. Just happened that way. Agree with V on all counts- broody, moody and pretty ducking great. Whatsherface was much better used here than in Sherlock Holmes.
    Only complaint would be the constant use of dub step on the soundtrack. Ugh.
    Forgivable though for an otherwise killer movie. Good job, WWE!

  34. Enjoyed the hell out of this one, even if it’s more or less the well-tread revenge story we’ve seen a dozen times before. Somewhat gloomy atmosphere, but never depressing. A case of a good director bringing something different to the table. I’m starting to feel like an arsehole for dissing Colin Farrell in the past, because I really like him in movies like this and IN BRUGES, where he’s a bit of a grimy yet vulnerable character. It suits him more than the cocky prat he can be in stuff like MINORITY REPORT.

    In some ways this reminded me of JOHN WICK, with it’s unique world building – a city without cops, mostly criminals and fringe dwellers.

  35. Yeah I really loved this one too, it’s weird and kind of silly and over-the-top, but also emotionally involving, well-acted and well-shot. I kinda like that the trailer is intentionally misleading and makes you think it’s a re-do of The Specialist, with Farrell helping Rapace get revenge on Howard, when that’s not the movie at all (the Netflix disc sleeve actually says that’s the plot too for some reason!)

    *SPOILER* I guess some people didn’t like the ending but I think it joins Bad Lieutenant 2 as a wildly unexpected “feel-good” movie. The ending really made me happy, like the buzz you’re supposed to get after watching a romantic comedy.

  36. *SPOILER* I loved the ending, but then again, I’m a sucker for a happy ending. And that kiss they have on the subway at the end was frickin’ hot.

    I’ve re-watched this one a few times and I still love it. I’m so happy when two actors have genuine chemistry. It doesn’t have to be romantic chemistry, even though it is the most noticeable when it’s a romantic connection, just some sort of intensity between the two actors. It seems like so many movies don’t make that an important aspect anymore that I really enjoy it when I find it.

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