In many ways, “Dead Man Down” is a boilerplate revenge thriller. The story of two haunted and damaged loners drawn together by their mutual desire for vengeance (albeit against two different villains) features several of the signature moves of the genre
The first loner, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), is a beauty whose face has been scarred in a car accident. She wants to murder the drunk driver who hit her, because he got off with a slap on the wrist. And how do we know that? Because Beatrice has saved the old newspaper clippings in a shoe box. Like so many of us who have been hurt, she sifts through them periodically, presumably to remind herself that, despite looking like a hot Swedish movie star, life can be tough.
Colin Farrell plays her counterpart, Victor, a professional thug whose apartment — across the street from Beatrice’s, has a secret room filed with an array of photos, maps, high-tech spy gear and other serial-killer-style paraphernalia. When he isn’t maintaining his sexy, three days’ growth of stubble or acting as an enforcer for his mobster boss (Terrence Howard), Victor spends his downtime brooding over home movies of a mysterious woman and child — and plotting retribution.
Against whom is not clear.
These tropes may be familiar, but writer J.H. Wyman and filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev (who directed Rapace in the original Swedish version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”) introduce enough stylish eccentricity — and opaque plotting — to keep the tale interesting, at least until the generic bloodbath conclusion.
Up until then, “Dead Man Down” spins on an off-kilter axis, thanks mostly to its leading lady. As she did with “Dragon Tattoo’s” Lisbeth Salander, Rapace brings a convincing intensity to a part that requires her to be, essentially, a kind of gleeful psychopath. Rather than going to therapy, she blackmails Victor into becoming her personal hit man after she spies him killing a stranger on his balcony.
So much for borrowing a cup of sugar from the neighbor.
Sure, a lot of this makes no sense. Be prepared for plenty of eye-rolling at the film’s preposterousness, which includes a bizarre turn by Isabelle Huppert as Beatrice’s live-in mother, a half-deaf noodge who keeps trying to fix her daughter up with Victor.
Don’t worry, Mom. Two crazy kids with compatible neuroses? This being Hollywood, everything will work out in the end.
(118 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for violence, obscenity, smoking and a sex scene.