Like so many European film-makers, Niels Arden Oplev has answered Hollywood’s siren song.
The Danish director was showered with plaudits for his work on the original Scandinavian version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, starring Noomi Rapace as a brilliant hacker with a dark past.
Dead Man Down reunites Oplev with his fearless leading lady for a slow-burning revenge thriller punctuated by explosions of outlandish violence.
There are holes in JH Wyman’s script which are never plugged, and the tightly coiled tension of the opening hour isn’t unleashed with the devastating force we excitedly anticipate.
However, Oplev’s cool direction and strong performances paper over the cracks, adding lustre to a satisfyingly serpentine genre piece that combines the emotional intimacy of the arthouse with the pyrotechnics of the multiplex.
The film opens with kingpin Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard) viewing the lifeless body of a henchman, whose body conceals the latest cryptic message and fragment of a photograph from a madman who has been targeting Hoyt’s operation.
“719. Now you realise,” reads the scrap of paper clenched in the dead man’s fist.
Hoyt doesn’t know who is targeting him, or why, and he places his trust in sharp shooter Victor (Colin Farrell).
Little does the kingpin know that Victor is the secret assassin who has wormed his way into the operation and befriended henchman Darcy (Dominic Cooper) to avenge his murdered wife and child.
Having set his trap, Victor returns home alone to his apartment.
He stares into a neighbouring block and makes eye contact with a young woman, Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), who lives with her mother Valentine (Isabelle Huppert).
The beautician engineers a meeting with Victor and they embark on a nervous first date.
At the end of the evening, Beatrice tells Victor that she has evidence of him killing a man and will happily withhold the video footage from police if Victor agrees to kill the drunk driver who badly disfigured her.
Dead Man Down is gripping.
Sexual chemistry between the leads simmers thanks to a spirited performance from Rapace, tinged with dry humour, such as when Beatrice brings over a plastic container of food for Victor, takes one look into his fridge and quips, “I’ll wedge it in between the mustard and those plastic explosives!”
Flirtation is underscored with sadness, and Beatrice warns Victor that revenge might not bring him peace of mind.
“I think you’re afraid that when it’s over, it won’t mend your heart,” she tells him tenderly.
Oplev takes time fleshing out the characters and their motivations, but he invariably has to deliver slam bang thrills to justify the 30 million-dollar budget.
These include a hare-brained denouement that relies on a video playing at just the right moment to draw two characters into the line of fire.
Some people have all of the luck.
(15, 118 min) Thriller/Romance/Action