US / 118 minutes / color / FilmDistrict, IM Global, WWE Studios, Original, Frequency Dir: Niels Arden Oplev Pr: Neal Moritz, J.H. Wyman Scr: J.H. Wyman Cine: Paul Cameron Cast: Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper, Isabelle Huppert, Luis Da Silva Jr., Wade Barrett, Franky G., Declan Mulvey, John Cenatiempo, Roy James Wilson Jr., Myles Humphus, Stephen Hill, Aaron Vexler, James Biberi, F. Murray Abraham, Andrew Stewart-Jones, Beata Alexandra Dalton, Accalia Quintana, Saul Stein, Armand Assante, Robert Vataj.
Two years ago, on June 17, Delphine (Quintana), the little daughter of Hungarian immigrants Anka (Dalton) and Laszlo Kerick (Farrell), was killed by a stray bullet as the thugs of racketeer landlord Alphonse Hoyt (Howard) attempted to clear the tower block in which they lived. Anka and Laszlo were determined to help the DA bring the hoodlums to justice, but Alphonse hired an Albanian gang led by Ilir Brozi (Biberi) to murder them. Ilir’s mob succeeded in killing Anka and, they thought, Laszlo; but in fact Laszlo survived.
Now, having taken the name Victor, Laszlo has, with the aid of Anka’s uncle, Gregor (Abraham), succeeded in infiltrating Alphonse’s crew. (As Sam Juliano has pointed out, Victor Laszlo is the name of Paul Henreid’ character in CASABLANCA .) He’s secretly playing a cat-and-mouse game with Alphonse, sending him photographs of Alphonse’s hoods with their eyes crossed out, plus small cut squares from another photograph with the obvious implication that, jigsaw-pieced together, these will reveal the identity of Alphonse’s tormentor and the reason for the torment. Alphonse sets his henchman Paul (Vexler) to trying to find out who’s behind the unsettling campaign. Paul deduces the guilty party is Victor and confronts him in the latter’s apartment but, before he can tell anyone else, Victor strangles him.
Beatrice (Noomi Rapace) explains her deal to Victor.
Unknown to Victor, this crime was witnessed by Beatrice Louzon (Rapace), who lives with her mother Valentine (Huppert) in the adjacent apartment block. A beautician, Beatrice suffered facial disfigurement thanks to a drunken driver; the local kids taunt her with cries of “Monster!” and have scrawled the same epithet on her apartment door. She comes to Victor with a deal: she’ll keep mum about the murder she saw if he will revenge the loss of her beauty by killing the driver responsible.
Victor has become close friends with one of Alphonse’s gang, Darcy (Cooper)—godfather, indeed, of Darcy’s infant. After the death of Paul, Darcy mounts his own effort to track down the mysterious tormentor, an effort he intensifies after Alphonse is almost the victim of a sniper attack in a crowded Manhattan street; Victor, who was the sniper and who was attempting not to kill Alphonse but to further his campaign of fear, escapes the scene only thanks to the quickwittedness of Beatrice, who has been following him . . .
There’s plenty more plot, for the most part beautifully filmed, scripted and paced, before this year’s June 17 and the inevitable mass shootemup as Victor finds he must rescue Beatrice from the clutches of Alphonse and his thugs. This takes place in a deconsecrated church that Alphonse has appropriated as a base, and involves driving a truck through a wall, extended bursts of automatic weaponry and two major explosions; needless to say, none of the neighbors think to call the cops.
Dead Man Down was the first Hollywood movie of Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, who previously helmed MÄN SOM HATAR KVINNOR (2009; vt The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), which of course likewise starred Noomi Rapace, in that instance as Lisbeth Salander. She’s in equally impressive form here although it’s a shame that—perhaps because of Hollywood pusillanimity?—the make-up department rendered her facial disfigurement as very minor, a far too watered-down homage to the damage done by Lee Marvin to Gloria Grahame’s face in The BIG HEAT (1953) and certainly nothing that might inspire the “Monster!” taunts of the kids. In fact, the whole “Monster!” strand of the narrative seems completely unnecessary: we can see, both for ourselves and through Victor’s eyes, that Beatrice is still a very attractive woman, the not unsightly scarring making her if anything even more so. Certainly her mother Valentine, played with great style and panache by Huppert—obviously enjoying herself—thinks so.
The movie’s ending, wherein Victor has committed an act of mass slaughter yet, rather than being destroyed by his vengefulness or held responsible in any way for the carnage, is rewarded by the awakening of new love—is obviously morally questionable. Of course, noirs and neonoirs very often do have morally questionable endings, it being a type-characteristic of the genre; yet this one seems to embody almost the antithesis of noirishness: it’s reminiscent of the end of a Western where the good guy, having despatched the outlaws, rides off into the sunset with the cute babe by his side. This isn’t intended as a criticism, more an attempt to explain one of the reasons why, despite copious neonoirish attributes, Dead Man Down comes across not as a neonoir but as an unusually ingenious and well crafted action movie.