Real quick, I've kind of got the cover of "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" that Kendra Morris did for this film's trailer stuck in my head, partly because, I must admit, it's kind of groovy, and largely because I'm trying to wrap my head around the momentous fact that I've actually lived to see the day where someone was able to pull off a version "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" that isn't even five minutes long. Well, Morris did shave off a lot of time with that rather abrupt, underwhelming ending, because as awesome as Pink Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" is, seriously, Richard Wright, we get it, you and the fellas had just finished a song that was somehow longer than "Atom Heart Mother" and "Echoes", now turn the blasted synthesizer off. Speaking of dragging, this film's title is about as lazy as the film's pacing, but hey, the fact of the matter is that this dead man is as down as Colin Farrell's price tag is probably going to end up being if he keeps doing box office disappointments. Yeah, no one is seeing this, and that's kind of a shame, because while I'm not crazy about this film, I like Collin Farrell, but alas, his effectiveness as a box office draw has been so diluted in recent years that this film is billing its being directed by the guy who did the "original" "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", because, you know, your regular American audience member is big on Swedish cinema. Sure, "Men Who Hate Women", as I call it in order to distinguish it from that even more awesome version from 2011, saw international success, but if the marketers really wanted to hit American audiences, then they should have just dropped the "the original" part in "From the director of the original 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'" and left people to think that this film was directed by David Fincher, kind of like how they dropped the "the" and left it as just Facebook. Yeah, as that forced reference to "The Social Network" will tell you, I'm a David Fincher fan, so the misconception would have definitely gotten me to see this film, and apparently Niels Arden Oplev has the same idea, because even though the marketers wouldn't want to make the silly mistake of leading you to believe that this is just another effort by the greatest director alive, Oplev is seriously ripping off an early David Fincher effort with this film. Harsh joking aside, this film is actually a little bit better than they say, I reckon, and yet, as if my opening up this article by rambling on about the song that they featured in this film's trailer wasn't reflective enough of this effort's not having as much as it probably should, allow me to ramble on about this film's shortcomings.
If I was fearing nothing else when I walked into this film, it was genericism, so I'm glad to see that the final product is not simply far from trite, but has areas that are genuinely refreshing, yet not without lugging around more than a few tropes that thin out the standout value of this film and leave predictability to set in. Familiarity plagues the film's plot, and even touches the characters, yet you somehow still feel rather disassociated from many of the major beats to storytelling that you've seen time and again, because even though you eventually gain a decent understanding of plot and character motivations, expository depth is sparse, which is problematic, not just because the sparseness of the exposition leaves you to take too long to attach yourself to this drama, but because exposition stands a chance of bonding plotting areas more organically. As things stand, the film is not only underdeveloped, but uneven, juggling subplots messily, underusing characters who will sometimes return to a high position in focus' priority all of a sudden, and even contradicting a harshly realist tone with the occasional questionable plotting note, particularly when it comes to some of the twists. When storytelling hits, as it often does, it hits harder than they say, sometimes to the point of genuinely engrossing with glimpses into the more rewarding thriller than this film easily could have been, but isn't, as it is too formulaic, underdeveloped and inconsistent for its own good, as well as with a tendency to directly assault the thrills with an inconsistency in pacing. Kind of European in its storytelling sensibilities as a meditative thriller, this film breaks up heavy tension with long and thoughtful periods of atmospheric sobriety that gives the film a sense of intelligence, and often meditates on the right thing at the right time, resulting in effectiveness, but more often than not simply slows the film down much too much, sometimes, perhaps even often into all-out dullness that distances you, or at least draws you in enough to think more about the final product's other shortcomings. The film has more potential than plenty of people say, and is even better than plenty of people say, having enough strengths to border on rewarding, though not enough for the final product to make that leap, pulled down from potential by the overpowering weight of predictability, underdevelopment, unevenness, slowness and overall underwhelmingness. Nevertheless, the point is that the film comes closer to good than many people say, ultimately falling short of what it could have been, but still being an adequately compelling thriller, and a stylish one at that.
I've heard some compliments directed towards highlights in Paul Cameron's cinematography, and quite frankly, I reluctantly compliment Cameron's efforts, as they are generally kind of flat and not all that outstanding on the whole, which isn't to say that there aren't still moments in which I did see what the moderate degree of hype is about, as there are mighty handsome occasions within this film's photographic value, which is at least consistent in a certain harsh coloring and lighting that fits the grit of this neo-noir like a glove. Again, I'm stretching with my compliments toward this film's generally underwhelming visual style, but the look of the final product is fitting, and it does its job reasonably well when it comes to complimenting the atmospheric intensity of this thriller, that is until the action sequences come into play, being sometimes too frantic in their filming and editing for you to get all that much of an understanding of what is going on, but generally intense, with tightly intricate staging whose realist feel immerses you into the messy and brutal combat, whose unapologetic violence further adds to the thrills. There's not a whole lot of action in this generally meditative noir thriller, but when it arrives, I found difficulty in turning away, and I wish I could say that most every other aspect to this film proved to be about as engaging, as this film could have been quite compelling. The story concept is familiar, and its value is often betrayed by undercooking, inconsistencies and slowness in storytelling, but the value is still there, somewhere inside this, in some areas, reasonably intelligent and dramatically weighty thriller, and when it is really played upon, I can't lie, I found myself all but gripped, because whether when he's playing up the chilliness of Jacob Groth's often ominously minimalist score, or being reasonably controlled in his thoughtfully soaking up the more dramatic aspects, director Niels Arden Oplev has his moments as storyteller that I found hard to ignore. Sure, the mistakes that Oplev makes as storyteller are just as difficult to ignore, and are arguably more recurring, but ambition that emphasizes hiccups becomes inspiration which emphasizes compellingness often enough for the final product to border on rewarding. Of course, what might bring the final product closest to the edge of rewarding is something that is consistently strong, and more so than I expected: the performances, which would be greater if there weren't some underwritten areas in acting material, but is still quite impressive, particularly within our leads, with Noomi Rapace practically stealing the show with her subtly powerful portrayal of a scarred and misfortunate woman who grows from a victim wanting to be avenged, if not simply put out of her misery, into someone who sees a very real chance at a new and relieved life, while leading man Collin Farrell delivers on both a flawless Hungarian-American accent, as well as on a convincing and quietly engaging, if not rather piercing portrayal of a killer willing to do the dirtiest of deeds to exact vengeance, yet for only so long before humanity challenges his fury. This is a talented cast, and I was expecting this film to have nothing less than enjoyable performances, but when acting material picks up, the performers deliver strongly as particularly reflective of the weight of this dramatic thriller, and while they aren't enough to make the final product rewarding, they, alongside inspired areas in direction, provide enough glimpses into what could have been to make a surprisingly very decent, if still somewhat underwhelming thriller.
Bottom line, the film boasts its formulaic areas, and just as many undercooked areas, while being a bit inconsistent in its plot layering, character usage, believability and pacing, - which mostly leans a bit too far over into the slow side - thus making for a thriller that doesn't offer enough thrills to reward, but comes closer than they say on the backs of intense action, often effective direction and strong acting, - especially from a show-stealingly excellent Noomi Rapace and engaging Collin Farrell - which deliver on enough glimpses into potential for "Dead Man Down" to stand as an endearing neo-noir, even though it could have been more.
2.75/5 - Decent