Film review: Dead Man Down. Stop right there, lads – we’ve more than enough Scandinavian gloom, thanks

 

The original Swedish film of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was no masterpiece, but it turned Noomi Rapace into an international star, and it gave its director, Niels Arden Oplev, the pick of every screenplay in Hollywood for his English-language debut. He’s said that the script of Dead Man Down was by far the best of the 250 he read – so one can only imagine how dreary the other 249 were.

It’s not that the screenplay is disastrous, exactly. It is what it is: an uninspired revenge yarn about an engineer (Colin Farrell), who infiltrates a low-rent criminal gang in New York two years after they murdered his wife and daughter and left him for dead. He’s planning to torment and then kill their generically heartless leader (Terrence Howard), but when his neighbour (Rapace) spots him throttling one of the bad guys, she ropes him into a revenge plot of her own. The deal is that she won’t shop him to the police as long as he dispatches the drunk driver who left her with a badly scarred face – although this being a mainstream film, it’s not as badly scarred as everyone says.

The story is pure pulp, from its twee romance to its preposterous action sequences, so it might have been worked up into a dynamic, sleazy, 90-minute B movie. But Oplev takes it seriously as only a Scandinavian can. He seems to think he’s making a sombre drama examining New York’s demi-monde, and the result is a silly, trashy thriller that’s nonetheless drawn-out and miserable, with far too many shots of people sitting and frowning at each other.

Most of the film’s entertainment value, such as it is, comes from trying to figure out how Oplev and Co settled on the characters’ ethnic backgrounds. Farrell, who’s Irish, plays a recent immigrant from Hungary with an American accent, while Rapace, who’s Swedish, plays a French woman who lives with her mother, Isabelle Huppert.

GIMME THE LOOT, ADAM LEON, 81 MINS, 15

Taking us even further down New York’s criminal food chain, Gimme the Loot is a smart, no-budget indie comedy about two Bronx teenagers, Sophie (Tashiana Washington) and Malcolm (Ty Hickson), who dream of making their mark on the city, literally, by spray-painting graffiti on  one of its landmarks. To do so, they need to raise $500, which means stealing some vintage jewellery from a willowy trustafarian straight out of the TV comedy-drama Girls.

Broadly speaking, then, Gimme the Loot is a heist movie, but only in the most low-key possible way. Shot on the fly on the city’s sun-cracked streets, Adam Leon’s short, unresolved slice of life has the loafing pace and authenticity of Spike Lee’s earliest work, and its characters are hardly nefarious masterminds. Despite their incessant swearing and their casual attitude to crime, it’s soon clear that they’re clueless innocents, more sinned against than sinning. Within half an hour, these two would-be ghetto superstars have been relieved of a pair of shoes and a bike in an explicit reference to The Bicycle Thieves.

Portraying a hand-to-mouth environment where being mugged is accepted as a daily nuisance, Gimme the Loot could have been grim viewing, but it’s lightened by the affection it has for its setting and its characters, who are so endearing and optimistic that you can only hope they have a brighter future. The actors who play them certainly do. As for Leon, the debut writer-director, he’s bound to have a much higher budget for his next film. Keep your fingers crossed that he spends it on something better than Dead Man Down.

CRITIC'S CHOICE

Honour, betrayal and the value of lard in times of war – all this in Sergei Loznitsa’s brilliant Russian drama In the Fog. Meanwhile, Gene Hackman and Al Pacino hit the road in Jerry Schatzberg’s long-forgotten but now re-released 1973 classic Scarecrow.

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