Dead Man Down doesn't live up to its pedigree

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Starring Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace. Rated 14A. Now playing

It’s easy to see the appeal of Dead Man Down for its excellent cast and for its high-pedigree director, Niels Arden Oplev. Best known for helming The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish edition) and spin-off Millenium TV series, the Danish-born filmmaker previously made intensely intimate art-house titles, including Worlds Apart and We Shall Overcome. There’s plenty of intensity and a surprising amount of intimacy here, even if the new film ends up a rather routine action thriller.

A perpetually grizzled Colin Farrell plays Victor, a super-efficient henchman for a ruthless, if suave, New York City gangster played by Terrence Howard. Lately, the boss has been plagued by creepy threats and then some weird violence, giving the movie an art-directed, Se7en-like edge.

Victor and best pal Darcy (England’s Dominic Cooper) are tasked with figuring out who’s behind this, although our stubbly antihero has secrets of his own to protect. (I’ll just say that his real name is Laszlo—a nifty bit of cinematic referencing from screenwriter and producer J. H. Wyman, since Victor Laszlo was the name of Paul Henreid’s iconic freedom fighter in Casablanca.)

This Victor/Laszlo isn’t exactly a guerilla. But whatever his underground mission, it’s interrupted by the persistent attentions of a neighbour who lives across from him in a grimy part of Brooklyn. The chain-smoking Beatrice (original Dragon star Noomi Rapace) has an obsession of her own, involving a drunk driver who left her with a tattoo of facial scars.

The leads’ scenes together crackle with unarticulated tension, some of which is channelled in unpredictable directions. But the movie’s meditations on revenge are less than profound, and the director’s interest in torture is not very appealing.

Beyond all that, I still can’t figure out what France’s great Isabelle Huppert, as Beatrice’s deaf-and-(kind of) dumb mother, was doing in Dead Man. Just working, I guess.

Watch the trailer for Dead Man Down.
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