Dead Man Down is pretty great.
Opening a few weeks ago to little fanfare, this is a classic case of fascinating movie material that will only find greater appreciation as its merits become better known.
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev, responsible for the original Swedish adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Dead Man Down follows and condenses a lot of interesting films. Oplev brings Dragon Tattoo muse Noomi Rapace, last seen in Prometheus, along for the ride, and it's not hard to see some of the old Lisbeth Salander show up in her performance. Colin Farrell stars as a man looking for revenge, and it's easy at certain points to see this as his version of Taken.
Yet together, Rapace and Farrell also evoke Two Lovers, an underrated drama that was Joaquin Phoenix's last film before the break he recently ended, in which his emotionally damaged character finds unexpected love from a neighbor played by Gwyneth Paltrow. Dead Man Down being a revenge flick, however, there's a little more going on.
Farrell has been making a whole canon of films about characters who are trying to overcome the effects of a death they either caused themselves or were affected by, be it Triage, Cassandra's Dream, or his Golden Globe winning performance for In Bruges. Dead Man Down in a way is a culmination of this streak. It's also one of the first films he's done where Farrell can fall back on certain knowledge that he now has a lengthy career going on, old enough so that his character's past can reflect just as much on what Farrell himself has been doing. This is Colin Farrell at the start of his mature career.
Like a lot of his roles, Farrell remains fairly silent throughout the movie. Yet as ever, he proves that his silences can be more compelling than what most actors do with endless reams of dialogue.
Yet you don't have to love Farrell as much as I do. Dead Man Down evokes such varied films as The Departed, Munich, even Batman Begins. With an international director, it gets a sense of a global community (Farrell plays a Hungarian immigrant, although he's worked to remove any native accent, much as Farrell himself frequently does in his movies), complete with limited sequences featuring subtitles, though it's very much grounded in familiar mobster happenings. As Farrell attempts to navigate tricky situations, he's sometimes pressed into a corner that's exciting to watch him escape.
Two of his acquaintances are played by the increasingly unappreciated Terrence Howard (they previously worked together in Hart's War) and rising star Dominic Cooper (from the sensational Devil's Double but also Captain America), and both add extra depth to the movie. Armand Assante briefly appears, calling to mind similar work in American Gangster.
Great film experiences for me remind me of what I love about movies. Sometimes it happens to be other movies themselves. Dead Man Down works on both those levels, even while affirming Colin Farrell's emerging legacy in cinema. Do yourself a favor and have a look.