During manhunt, an intense study
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, December 7, 2012
“Deadfall” wastes no time letting you know what you’re in for. Mere seconds into the movie, a car is tumbling through the air like a wobbly football. Having just hit a deer, it has gone airborne, and we watch, in slow motion, as it and its contents -- three nattily dressed casino robbers and a pile of cash -- drift in seeming weightlessness before coming to a rest upside down in the north Michigan snow, the driver’s head through the windshield.
The film, by Oscar-winning Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky (“The Counterfeiters”), is an example of nouveau film noir in the manner of last year’s “Drive,” a genre characterized by often grisly violence, high style and a distinctly nihilistic outlook. In short order, the two surviving passengers, brother and sister Addison and Liza (Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde), have scooped up most of the money and set off separately on foot for Canada. And that’s only after Addison has shot the state trooper who stopped to investigate, in the first of several gruesome incidents in his wake.
“Let’s not dally,” Addison says.
He doesn’t, though the film itself does, taking a meandering, if compulsively watchable, path toward its bloody and strangely satisfying conclusion. As Addison and Liza split, “Deadfall” does as well, fracturing into multiple story lines that converge only late in the final reel, in a remote farmhouse on Thanksgiving.
The main narrative involves the manhunt for Addison, a mesmerizing figure who is part angel of death and part angel of mercy. First, he steals a snowmobile, leaving its owner with a knife in his chest and lying in the snow -- along with Addison’s own accidentally severed pinkie. (Ruzowitzky doesn’t flinch from the plentiful gore, though you might.) Later, Addison holes up in a cabin with a little girl whose abusive stepfather (Alain Goulem) he has just shot to death. Believe it or not, their encounter is lovely, in a darkly funny and poetic way.
Another thread follows Liza, whose flight path quickly intersects with that of Jay (Charlie Hunnam), a former boxer and ex-con who’s also on the lam. Their relationship, which predictably becomes steamy, vies for our attention with Addison’s story. Ruzowitzky juggles both balls deftly, working from a surprisingly strong first script by teacher-turned-screenwriter Zach Dean.
Other subplots include one focusing on Hanna (Kate Mara), a deputy caught up in the pursuit of Addison. Much attention is given to her dysfunctional relationship with her sheriff boss (Treat Williams), a world-class sexist pig who also happens to be her father.
The theme of damaging fathers is writ large. In addition to Hanna’s dad and the abusive stepfather Addison kills, there’s also Jay’s father, Chet (Kris Kristofferson), a bitter and emotionally withholding presence whose disappointment in his son won’t be fully explained -- or released -- until all of the main characters convene in Chet’s farmhouse, where he lives with his almost unbelievably grounded wife (Sissy Spacek).
There’s one more bad dad, too -- Addison and Liza’s. “Deadfall” saves his story -- and the full revelation of its intergenerational fallout -- for the very end.
Ultimately, the movie is about letting go. Most of that theme is expressed through the relationship between Liza and Addison, whose love for his sister, it is strongly suggested, isn’t purely fraternal.
Yes, there’s a powerfully creepy sensibility to “Deadfall.” But the way it handles the messiness of families -- a universal message given vivid metaphorical life in the blood and guts it leaves in its path -- is finally rewarding.
Contains bloody violence, sex and obscenity.