Hungarian immigrant Victor (Colin Farrell) institutes a viciously unflinching campaign of aggression against a New York crime boss who murdered Victor’s kin as Dead Man Down jumps into its narrative struggle. Lumpy pacing will loosen thematic grip, while an unorthodox romance blossoms with an emotionally and physically scarred Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), blackmailing Victor.
Dead Man Down is a series of complications, Victor working under a pseudonym to cover his identity, working for trust as he discreetly undermines Alphonse’s (Terrence Howard) shifty real estate deals. Blanketed revenge is eschewed for dour location scenes featuring two fractured characters piecing together a semblance of livelihood, Beatrice and Victor entangled in their own mind games.
New York backdrops keeps the film busy, and shoot-outs add harrowing civilians under the gun. Street level openness adds an air of uncertainty and cautious behavior as deals are distributed. Cinematography gleans ambiance even in rotting, pitted docks serving as criminal homesteads. Paranoia seems sensible.
Treating romantic interludes as an aside, Dead Man Down is a twitchy thriller, depicting a shaken crime lord in persistent panic as his lessers are downed by an unknown individual. Howard’s performance as Alphonse is sweaty and nervous, someone on the edge of breaking down, increasing in fury as his sagging empire collapses.
Beatrice’s secret, the reason for her scarring, becomes an implied necessity. Her own past is tacked on as a character growth device, an element to serve distracted romance without convolution in the script. Victor’s intensity, derived from a strict, often indifferent Farrell, passes over his potential interest in an unorthodox love affair. Seeing the character come down from seedy cocaine fueled gun fights humanizes a traditionally chilly archetype.
Dead Man Down is initially blank to the audience, unfilled purpose held for later, more intimate reveals. Splashy violence as an introduction serves minimal elements, a mash-up of popped blood squibs, machine guns, and surly personalities meant to push a willingness to murder amongst competing crime factions. Heart has yet to be instilled, derivative exposition treating this surprising thriller as standard fare until pieces find their place.
Packets of mystery become eventuality, opened and exposed as Dead Man Down enters its trailer phase. Cars burst through brick walls, while faceless gunmen are dropped in split second edits. Inevitable female entanglements play as expected, book-ending the feature with eye-rolling cliché, softening created expectation for something richer. Dead Man Down relieves itself of dramatic potential, splurging on clean exits which leave this droopy, often ugly overcast world with an inexplicable smile. Still, it’s an engaging ride to get there.
Affluent in orange, teal, and gray, this Arri Alexa produced image is difficult to directly inhabit, often dulled with limited traditional scope. Dead Man Down is mood first, a dire landscape casting New York under attack from clouds without peering sunlight. Much of the piece wanders under darkness, allowing the divisive two tone color spectrum to seep in from finite light sources.
Pressure is forced onto black levels to capably carry imagery, and with some inconsistency, they bond elements in thick density. An impromptu encounter finds Vincent reeling in an abandoned office at night displays fantastic aptitude for depth, seizing proven, striking elements.
While the Alexa douses Dead Man Down with rich fidelity, its cost comes with mild – nearly imperceptible – smearing and jumpy focus. Close-ups strain under the lens, depicting sharp perfection before losing to softened elements with even slight movement. Sony’s AVC encode tops off bitrate to remove itself from any video quality discussion. Problems are strictly source based.
What the Alexa does consistently well is remain pure, devoid of noise problems. A handful of shots exhibit a tinkered, digital, or even filtered facade, the only elements which can definitively reveal any loss of naturalistic quality. Much of the piece could pass for film work, even if eye catching is not a proper descriptor.
With bombastic opening and closing chapters, sound design is predominantly concerned with encapsulating characters in New York environments. Street level work plants material in all channels to create an effective, surrounding cityscape even when cinematography situates in tight. An alluring rain storm near the 80-minute mark is an example of how broad this disc can reach in terms of envelopment.
Spacey interiors will play heed to provided location, plucking voices from a center channel existence to space them into each speaker. Echoes add dramatic mood and flavor, a step beyond usual, merely sufficient design.
When guns come to drop plentiful rounds, aggression is layered, if lackadaisical as far as LFE is concerned. Shots ring out with definitive placement, poppy as they ping on walls while carrying debris. For the climax, explosions finally add sought after weight, rumbling the low-end after a flurry of activity from a crashing car. Many will find material offered subdued, but it’s rich in vibrancy if you listen.
Revenge and Redemption is the first – and weakest – of three featurettes, direct and praising for all involved, while lean on meaty information. Revenge Technique is a refreshingly open talk on cinematography, short at six minutes, while diving into color timing which includes orange & teal. Staging the Action plots a detailed course through choreography, going so far as to show live action animatics. In all, these three bonuses combine for 24-minutes of content. Trailers remain.