‘Dead Man Down’ Reunites Niels Arden Oplev with his Lisbeth Salander

Dead Man Down movie poster

The tagline for “Dead Man Down” is “revenge is coming.” But while revenge is a big theme, it’s really about forgiveness. These characters have been forever wounded by a past which will not let them be, and they spend their time trying to avenge it in order to find some form of peace in their lives. What results is a movie which doesn’t break any new ground (few movies these days do anyway), but it is still a compelling one filled with complex characters and twists I didn’t see coming.

We meet Victor (Colin Farrell), the right-hand man to ruthless New York crime lord Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard), and he defends his boss in a nasty firefight at the movie’s start. Quickly, we assume Victor is as loyal to Alphonse as any gangland player could ever be and that he will soon get a meteoric rise to the top of the criminal food chain. However, it turns out Victor is actually seeking revenge against Alphonse for killing his wife and child, and he is getting closer and closer to exacting his revenge.

But then Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), a woman who lives in an apartment across from Victor’s, enters the picture. Beatrice is still recovering emotionally from a nasty car accident which has left her face permanently scarred. While the scar hasn’t taken away all her beauty, it has destroyed her self-image and left her with a deep-seated rage she is desperate to be rid of.

After a dinner where the two of them make small talk and discover things they have in common, Beatrice makes her real intentions clear to Victor; she wants him to kill the drunk driver who plowed into her car and ruined her face. Moreover, she is willing to blackmail Victor into doing this as she has evidence of him killing another man. Knowing Victor is capable of taking a life, she gives him no choice but to take another. Both have strong motivations for vengeance, but can they tear themselves away from their rage long enough to see the damage they are doing to one another?

Right from the start, “Dead Man Down” is filled with twists and turns which makes this average revenge thriller all the more entertaining to sit through. Even if the twists aren’t entirely plausible, they keep us on the edge of our seats as we can only guess what will happen next. Just when you think you know where things are going, you don’t.

But what I really liked about this movie was how wonderfully complex the characters were. There is nothing black and white about them as everyone exists in a morally grey area. While Victor and Beatrice are clearly justified in having their revenge, we know the ways they are seeking it will do not make them good people. Even Alphonse comes across as much more than an average one-dimensional bad guy as he is someone who certainly wasn’t born evil. While certain characters may deserve some form of punishment over others, no one comes out of this story the least bit innocent.

“Dead Man Down” marks the first English language film from writer and director Niels Arden Oplev, the same man who gave us the original version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” as well as the recent remake of “Flatliners.” Now when filmmakers from a foreign country come over to America, their talents usually get compromised in the process. But Oplev doesn’t appear to have lost any of his skill here as he gives us a strong motion picture filled with fascinating characters. He also gets terrific performances from each of his actors as well as some strong visual moments such as a descent down the middle of a stairwell.

Colin Farrell has gone from doing needless remakes like “Fright Night” and “Total Recall” to terrific movies such as “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths.” He has become an actor who can go from playing a good guy to a bad guy with relative ease, and this makes him perfect for a character like Victor who could be seen as either. Farrell does excellent work in conveying Victor’s conflicted emotions as he goes about exacting his revenge. As he gets closer to achieving his goal, Victor begins to see how he is becoming just like those who destroyed his life. Seeing the pain in Farrell’s eyes as he makes this clear to the audience without words shows us how great of an actor he can be when given the right material.

Noomi Rapace, the original Lisbeth Salander, is a powerhouse as Beatrice. Watching Rapace deal with her rage as well as the bad luck life has dealt her is enthralling to take in, and the scenes where she is attacked by a group of children who see her as a monster are devastating to witness. Like Salander, Beatrice is stuck in a moment which forever changed the course of her life, but Rapace gets to showcase more of a vulnerability here she wasn’t able to express as much in her star making performance. She remains a compelling actress to keep an eye on, and it’s great to see her reunited here with Oplev.

But I the performance which most impressed me was Terrence Howard’s as Alphonse Hoyt. Now when you see an actor take on the role of an evil crime lord, you expect them to chew the scenery and give an over the top performance. But Howard doesn’t do this here, and it is clear he has given this role a lot of thought. There is no doubt that Alphonse is an evil dude, but Howard is excellent in giving a method to this man’s madness. Howard left such a powerful impression on us with his Oscar nominated performance in “Hustle & Flow,” and his performance in “Dead Man Down” is a reminder of how he never lets us down as an actor.

In addition, there is a really good supporting performance by Dominic Cooper as Victor’s friend Darcy, and he has a wonderful scene at the start where he is holding his baby and talking about how he hopes being a father will lead him to a better future. The great Isabelle Huppert also shows up as Beatrice’s mom, Valentine, and she remains a remarkable actress even in the smallest of roles. There’s also strong cinematography from Paul Cameron and a wonderfully atmospheric film score from composer Jacob Groth to take in as well.

“Dead Man Down” is not the equal of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and its climax is a bit over the top for a movie like this, but I liked how character driven it was and you don’t see many movies like that these days. It is also a compelling story about how the power of forgiveness is more important than the need for revenge. In this day and age, it is important to remember that.

* * * out of * * * *

‘Saw’ and ‘Insidious’ Screenwriter Leigh Whannell on Dealing with Anxiety

Leigh Whannell

Sure, everybody deals with anxiety, but for others it can be a very serious disorder. Anxiety is not the same thing as fear because fear is more of a feeling about something which is realistically dangerous, and it is an appropriate response to a perceived threat. But anxiety is more about anticipating disaster and excessively worrying about everyday things like health, money, relationships with friends and family or troubles at your job. The problem is many of these worries are irrational, and much of what you fear never becomes a reality. Still, it’s not something you can just flip off like a light switch as those who are saddled with this disorder end up suffering from many physical symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, fidgeting, difficulty concentrating, trouble breathing and nausea among other things. They find themselves unable to control their anxiety, and it can seriously affect how they deal with daily life.

I bring this up because I suffer from anxiety, but I typically don’t talk about it much outside of a doctor’s office. There is a stigma attached to mental disorders in general, and many who suffer from them don’t want to admit they have a problem. Explaining this to others is frustrating because not many have a full understanding of what you’re going through, and the advice you are likely to get is “get over it.”

Insidious Chapter 2 poster

So, I had the opportunity to speak with Leigh Whannell, an actor and writer who wrote the screenplays for “Saw,” “Dead Silence” and “Insidious,” all of which were directed by James Wan. Whannell was in Los Angeles for the “Insidious: Chapter 2” press junket, and I was lucky enough to have a 1-on-1 interview with him at the Four Seasons Hotel thanks to the website We Got This Covered. Whannell himself suffers from anxiety as well, and I asked him how he dealt with it and if it influenced his writing in any way. Part of me was worried this might seem like too personal a question, but he was actually very open to talking about it.

Leigh Whannell: When I was in my mid-20’s, I was having these physical symptoms. To me I didn’t think it was anxiety, I thought it was a health problem. I was getting these headaches and heart palpitations, and at that age I was too young to understand psychological problems. Especially in Australia, we don’t really have a big therapy culture in the sense that I don’t know if people really address their problems as much as they do here. So, I was very confused, and when a doctor told me that all these things that are happening are because of anxiety, that was hard. I think the way I dealt with it in the end was to chisel away at the elements of my life that were adding to the stress. I was working in a job I didn’t like very much, and I got out of the job. It was hard because no one wants to be unsure where their next paycheck is coming from, but I knew that if I got out of that job that would help so I did that. In terms of influence, it was very influential in the writing of ‘Saw.’ I look at ‘Saw’ now and I realize that it’s not exactly a critically acclaimed film, but a lot of people would maybe see it as a B-movie. But for me, at the time, I didn’t see it that way. It was so meaningful to me because, even though it’s this thriller, I was looking at this character that was dying, and all these anxieties about death really were an influence. I think it can end up being good therapy in a lot of ways. When you get out your subconscious on paper, it’s like a mental sauna. You sweat out all the dark stuff and I think that ‘Saw’ is very much a product of who I was in my early to mid-20s. I think I had a pretty dark nihilistic worldview, hence the movie ‘Saw’ (laughs).

I told Whannell it was great he was able to channel his anxiety into his work as it proved to be beneficial for his health and career overall. As I walked out of the hotel room, he wished me the best of luck in dealing with it as he deeply understood what anxiety was all about, and he also gave me some good advice to follow:

Leigh Whannell: I think it’s similar to a physical health problem in that you need to take steps like meditation or long walks or days where you don’t have to focus on it. You need to carve out time for yourself.

Since the interview, I have started taking a mindfulness class which is a form of meditation that focuses your mind to be more attentive and aware of what your body is going through. Essentially, it gives your brain a much-needed rest and to not judge the thoughts which keep running through your head on a regular basis. I have also sought treatment through therapy and other methods, and all of it has been largely beneficial. I still have a way to go in dealing with my anxiety, but I can honestly say I have made a lot of progress.

I really want to thank Leigh Whannell for his time and for being so open about what he went through while dealing with overwhelming anxiety. Honestly, it looks like he’s feeling great and doing much better than when he was younger. Hearing him talk about this issue and seeing him looking very healthy certainly gives me a lot of hope.