Perhaps the most frustrating thing that can happen to a movie watcher is to witness a great premise devolve into something much less satisfying. That's exactly what happened to me as I watched 'Deadfall' unravel before my eyes. After a few great opening scenes that set up an interesting premise, the movie goes totally off the rails into a standard action picture, concluding with a third-act hostage situation that is nothing more than a poor man's rip-off of 'The Desperate Hours.'
'Deadfall' gets underway with siblings Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) being driven at high speed on a snowy road. They've just robbed a casino in what has to be a more interesting story than the one that's about to unfold (sorry!). Anyway, the driver of the car hits a deer, sending the car airborne and killing him instantly. Addison and Liza survive the crash, but Addison is forced to kill a police officer who arrives on the scene shortly thereafter. Knowing he'll be a wanted man, but also knowing the authorities will have no idea someone else was involved, he decides to split up with his sister, leaving her with half of the casino money.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to Jay (Charlie Hunnam) as he is released from prison. He's an ex-boxer who has gone to jail for taking a dive in a rigged fight, and the first thing he does when he gets out of jail is to see his former trainer, who still owes him the money for throwing the match. An argument ensues, and Jay accidently kills him, assuring himself life in prison if he's ever caught. As he heads off in his truck, he runs across the freezing Liza and gives her a ride. Of course, neither initially tell the other about their dark recent pasts.
Okay, so far so good. Up to this point in the movie, 'Deadfall' has given us some interesting characters and an exciting premise to play off of. Sadly, we're only about 15 minutes in. At this point, the plot turns into a manhunt for Addison, who – after seeming level-headed at the outset of the story – becomes more psychopathic and murderous as things progress. What is it about movie villains that they always start screaming and doing crazy things as the running time progresses? Of course, you score no bonus points for guessing that Jay and Liza fall in love in just a matter of hours.
The search for Addison includes a father/daughter pair of police officers (Treat Williams and Kate Mara), and concludes with Addison taking hostages at (surprise!) Jay's parents' (Kris Kristofferson and Sissy Spacek – both totally wasted here in thankless roles) farmhouse, which of course winds up including both Jay and Liza as well as the young officer played by Kate Mara.
Which is not to say 'Deadfall' is a horrible movie… it's not. It's just a very predictable one that tries more to meet viewers' expectations for a thriller, rather than give us something fresh and exciting. If you're looking for something with a lot of snowmobile chases and hostage drama, you'll probably get an evening's worth of entertainment from 'Deadfall.' However, if you – like me – expect something more given the cast that signed up for this film, you're likely to be disappointed by the storyline.
'Deadfall' was filmed in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and gets a very nice HD transfer onto Blu-ray. The movie was shot primarily on 35mm, although digital was used for some of the scenes.
For the most part, grain is semi-heavy and evident throughout most of the film. The picture, though, is otherwise very sharp with lots of detail, especially during the movie's outdoor scenes that take place in the daylight. The scenes that take place outdoors in the snow are particularly impressive. Skin tones and contrasts are well-balanced throughout. Some of the nighttime/dusk scenes and several of the more dimly-lit indoor scenes look a little soft, and black crush seeps into some of those moments, but for the most part this is an above-average HD transfer.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master track is one of those active and immersive audio experiences that help add to one's enjoyment of the film. Even when there's not much happening on-screen, the howl of the winter wind and the creaking and cracking of traveling through wooded areas allows one to feel as if they are right there with the characters on-screen.
Overall, the track is very active without being overbearing, and the dialogue is well-balanced with the majority coming from the front center channel. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are also available for the hearing impaired.
After a promising start, 'Deadfall' descends into a by-the-numbers affair that is only set apart by the quality of its actors. It starts out to be an interesting examination of several dysfunctional families, but quickly changes into little more than your typical B-Grade thriller. It's worth a one-time viewing/rental if you're a fan of action flicks, but there's nothing here we haven't seen in hundreds of other similar films.