Dead Man Down Has a Pulse
"Always kill the devil quickly when you find him."
If you see a movie this weekend, consider Dead Man Down, a nicely paced and well-acted revenge thriller with substance and realism to the characters. If nothing else, it made me care about Colin Farrell (Victor) as both an actor and a person. I also found out that Noomi Rapace (Beatrice) can affect me without saying a word. They play damaged and vulnerable characters and deliver the spare dialogue with truly haunted looks. And Terrence Howard's (Alphonse) portrayal of a paranoid drug kingpin, unraveling from months of threats and friends dying around him was intriguing. It was moodily filmed and tense in the right places, giving me the desire to rent director Niels Arden Oplev's original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to see more of his work.
As a bonus for any Fringe fan, the screenplay was written by Joel Wyman, who recently took that Iittle seen but incredible show to the finish line in a fitting series finale. Strip everything strange away and Fringe was about connection and hope, the same message on display in Dead Man Down, though told in a far different way.
More specifically it's about a man seeking to destroy those who caused him unbearable pain and finding an unexpected reason to want to live through his vendetta. It's about broken people on a path of vengeance finding something more. It's not mindless action, but has depth that you wouldn't expect from the way it was advertised. That depth some don't see or care for, but Joel wove emotion in through the bullets, because that's what makes a story worth telling. Though it may put off people just looking for guns and explosions, it's a great contrast to have quiet moments of connection to make the situation feel more real and urgent.
"Even the most damaged heart can be mended."
It's sad to think I wouldn't have gone to the theater if I didn't know the writer. Then I would have missed a movie that had me smiling easily whenever the leads were together and made me wish it were just a little longer to get more screen time for two secondary characters. Vic's friend in the gang, Darcy (Dominic Cooper), is a guy with a new baby who's outlook on life has changed for the better, but he gets closer and closer to finding out who's threatening the big boss, Alphonse. Even though he's one of the not so good fellas, we really like him, so we don't want him to get to the truth. And there was Beatrice's sweet and lovely mother (Isabelle Huppert), flitting around their apartment making cookies and encouraging her daughter to live her life.
Unfortunately, Dead Man Down was not well-promoted, the commercials were not great, and it's up against Oz the Great and Powerful. Oz was also poorly rated by quite a few, but it's visually stunning and family friendly, so Dead Man Down probably won't even last another two weeks in smaller theaters. There are also a lot of negative reviews out there, which I don't give much weight to since I've already seen it and love it. A common complaint about countless movies and shows seems to be plot holes. A lot of the ones I've experienced more a case of reviewer forgetfulness. Not every detail is always necessary to spell out. Some things are to be inferred. That doesn't make them holes, ruin the story, or make it incomprehensible. In Dead Man Down, I never wondered how or why something happened.
"Note that a Plot Hole is inherently a contradiction: A Plot element that is merely left unexplained is not a Plot Hole unless its occurrence is impossible according to the setting's rules."
None of these occurrences were impossible according to the rules. I could possibly have missed a minor one, maybe a small thing in the end that someone mentioned, but it would be a spoiler. One good review wondered why it took Vic so long to avenge his family, calling it a plot hole. That's not a hole. He needed to infiltrate the gang in order to get to the one who gave the order. That would take time, and he had to be careful in order to get as many as possible. Another character, Gregor (F. Murray Abraham), mentioned this, so we are well aware. Remember the quote at the top? Gregor was talking to Vic. I think Vic not only wanted to be careful and do this right, but he was also vindictive (rightfully so) and loved the cat-and-mouse game he was playing. They also asked: What did Cooper's character hope to gain? Darcy explained this during a car ride with Vic. He wanted to climb the ranks to better provide for his family. Of course, there was also the threat to all their lives: a motivator for anyone.
Violence was another criticism even though so many R-rated movies of this sort are worse. They're just nitpicking now to try and prove their point. I'm not squeamish and intolerant, nor do I have a high threshold for violence, so believe me when I tell you that the movie was very easy to watch. There is a lot of gunplay and death, but it's not gratuitous for the most part. The main character is a broken man avenging his family, not a psychopath. Though there was a torture scene involving rats, it was over quickly, the bad guy mercifully shot. There has been far worse in Game of Thrones, for example.
Another thing I read was that it was complicated and there were absurdities that kept piling on. I lump these together because I need very few words to respond. I would take absurdities to mean ridiculously unrealistic events. Nothing such happened. Complicated? Not really, unless the reviewer forgot they were a viewer and instead thought they were one of the movie's antagonists, who were all in the dark. They deemed complicated something that was pretty straightforward.
I often feel like many reviewers are pretending to be smarter than they are, professing to love some movies that in my eyes couldn't be less appealing, and conveying by their tone that anyone who likes something they don't is an imbecile. I know of one who's ratings are always shown in Entertainment Weekly alongside a sampling of others, and she consistently gives below average or failing grades to just about everything. She's very consistent in hating everything I find fun, exciting, or moving. I've seen her crack a C only a couple times. She has to be miserable being unable to find joy in her job.
I've read reviews that guided me towards movies that turned out to be boring and lacked something (vibrancy, forward momentum) yet were considered to be great cinema. I have also avoided movies because of reviews and they turned out to be very likeable. So read others' opinions, but make up your own mind. Reviews are only suggestions, subjective recommendations, and you should find a reviewer with whom you often agree.
Just for reference, I love movies such as The Princess Bride, Jurassic Park, The Dark Knight, Shaun of the Dead, and The Avengers. I love shows like Fringe, The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, Supernatural, and Friends. I love sweetness and heart, but don't like most romatic comedies, which are often very poorly done. I love when the bullets fly and John McClane gets beat up. I love things that are gorgeously written and showcase flawless acting. I love movies that give me an appreciation of an actor I never gave a second thought to before. I love combining all of the above. If something is by Tim Burton or Quentin Tarantino, I generally don't understand the appeal, though I did like, but not love, Edward Scissorhands and Kill Bill. I will give anything a chance. I just don't like pervasive weirdness without hilarity and relatability. I don't like violence for the sake of violence, but I like war movies (The Hurt Locker) and vampire stories (The Passage). And I only get to see a movie in the theater every couple of months, so I invariably choose what I know I will not be disappointing. Maybe that will help you gauge whether or not you'll like Dead Man Down.
If you do end up liking it, or even if you don't, please give Fringe a shot; it was every bit a work of art, created by many passionate people and supported by amazing fans that kept it alive. Joel Wyman is also executive producing JJ Abrams' new near-future android-human cop show, possibly titled InHuman or Human (not yet official), so that should tell you that Abrams has faith in him no matter how a single movie does at the box office.
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While I disagree with certain points in some of these reviews, I like them for being level-headed. These are the kinds of reviewers that can be fair. If you want to see dissenting opinions, I encourage you to do so. I just won't list them here. They annoyed me too much.