For a revenge thriller made under the imprint of wrestling franchise WWE, the movie Dead Man Down sure is... Nordic.
Credit Niels Arden Oplev and Noomi Rapace, a Dane and a Swede, respectively, who last collaborated on the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Oplev as director and Rapace as the film's star. They leave their respective imprints on this WWE property. Hence, what could have been just another brawny, bloody, bullet-riddled movie gets an overlay of bleak, Bergmanesque despair.
Colin Farrell, recalling his guilt-plagued hitman in In Bruges, is Victor, a moody hired gun in the employ of Alphonse (Terrence Howard), a New York crime boss.
A loner, Victor is intrigued by the woman who lives in an apartment in the high-rise opposite his. She is Beatrice (Rapace), a former beautician sidelined from life by a car accident that left her face cruelly scarred. She lives with her eccentric mother (Isabelle Huppert may be the most glamorous actress ever to occupy the role of the dotty mom), but appears to be ready to re-enter the world when she sends a message to Victor, in effect asking for a date.
The date goes wrong when Beatrice starts making unreasonable demands of her would-be beau. She wants him to kill the drunk driver responsible for her disfigurement. If Victor does not comply, she will come forward as a witness to a murder she saw Victor commit in the apartment.
That murder has a connection to Alphonse, and Victor's own, far more elaborate revenge scheme precipitated by a tragedy that robbed him of his wife and young daughter.
The circumstances of that tragedy unfold slowly throughout the film, but the film's most compelling mystery remains that WWE credit. There is a pro wrestler somewhere in the movie named Wade Barrett but suffice it to say, the role does not involve colourful threats or hitting anyone over the noggin with a folding chair. So it's best not to dwell on the potentially bewildering juxtaposition of Isabelle Huppert and WWE on the same IMDb page.
The truth is that this is a fairly gritty crime melodrama with a script by J.H. Wyman that offers up an intelligent take on the messy business of vengeance. Cinematographer Paul Cameron shoots the movie with an eye to achieving maximum gloom.
It's a little too relentlessly downbeat, however. There is a piquant irony in the premise of double revenge, but Oplev refuses to portray it as anything but a cause for even more despair.
It's possible to incorporate lightness and comedy in the most bleak of scenarios. Again, In Bruges comes to mind.
Oplev saves any life affirmation for a few seconds at the end, and by that time, it's too little too late.
Dead Man Down
Starring Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace
21Ñ2 stars out of five