Scorsese and DiCaprio. Nolan and Bale. Something great happens when filmmakers reteam with their best stars and crew. 'Dead Man Down' marks the return of another great duo: Noomi Rapace and Niels Arden Oplev, star and director of the original 'Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.'
Who doesn't love a good movie with well-written twists and turns? Most movies save their twists for the end, altering the story as you've come to know it up until that point. 'Dead Man Down' has some nice little twists of its own, but they're executed in a unique manner that kicks them off from the get-go.
If you've seen the trailer for 'Dead Man Down', here's what you probably expect: Rapace plays a woman whose life gets turned upside down by a bad man. The result of this life-altering event leaves half of her face scarred. After watching her neighbor (Colin Farrell) murder a man from her balcony, she decides to blackmail him into also killing the bad man responsible for ruining her life and face, a powerful crime lord played by Terrence Howard.
While this isn't far from the film's actual plot, it deceptively steers you away from the real story at hand.
I wouldn't call this bad marketing, but creative marketing. Why? The story that I just described sounds good enough to gain your attention, right? Well, the actual story is even better than that. The trailer isn't misleading at all, just exceptionally vague. Little twists turn what you think you know on its head. (Don't worry, I won't spoil the plot for you.) I believe this marketing has been intentional. It's quite refreshing to go into a movie expecting one story, but being handed another. The twists and turns start from the film's intense opening sequence. It's the opposite of a movie whose trailer reveals too much of the plot – and I, for one, think it's brilliant.
The trailers also portray 'Dead Man Down' as a high-action thriller. Of course, being centered around gangsters and revenge, it has several great shootouts and fights, but not nearly as many as the trailer would lead you to believe. Again, this isn't a bad thing. Let me explain.
Rapace and Farrell give brilliant performances here. The weight of this film rests on their shoulders. At the same time we're watching this thriller unfold, we discover great multi-dimensional characters. As you might expect, a somewhat romantic relationship evolves between the two. I say "somewhat" because they literally only share one moment of innocent physical interaction. Imagine watching a romance film where the couple's relationship is never the focus of the story and is hardly talked about. It sounds like an impossible dynamic, but I promise that the non-romantic romance in 'Dead Man Down' is more romantic than most romance flicks. (I apologize for using the word "romance" so many times in one sentence.) This wouldn't be possible without Rapace and Farrell. Their chemistry is so intense and tangible that I'm begging director Niels Arden Oplev to bring Farrell into the mix and turn his duo with Rapace into a trio. Acting off one another, Rapace and Farrell make every non-action scene just as captivating as the awesome shootouts.
Without question, 'Dead Man Down' is one of the best films of 2013 (so far). I don't, by any means, see it being an awards contender at year end, but that won't keep it from landing a prime spot in my year-end Top 10.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony has given 'Dead Man Down' a nice little combo pack release that includes both a Region A BD-50 and a DVD copy of the film housed in standard blue eco-lite Vortex keepcase, as well as a code for an Ultraviolet digital copy. The cover art sheet carries an image printed on the back that's visible from the inside of the open case. The keepcase slides vertically into a slick, glossy and embossed cardboard slipcase. Upon inserting the disc into your player for the first time, several skippable videos play – a Sony vanity reel and trailers for 'Olympus Has Fallen,' 'The Last Exorcism Part 2,' 'Evil Dead' and 'The Call' - but the next time you insert the disc, you can refrain from skipping over those videos with the "Resume Playback" option.
'Dead Man Down' has been given a solid 1080p/AVC-MPEG 4 encode that widens the theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio to 2.40:1 and is damn near perfect. Go figure – Sony puts out another fantastic-looking Blu-ray.
Off the top of my head, I cannot think of another film that kicks off with as many vanity reels as 'Dead Man Down.' In any other movie, I'd groan, but four of the five reels immediately exemplify the greatness of this release. One shows off the dense black levels, another the vibrant colorization, another the great level of detail and another the luscious sharpness.
With the story playing out like a twist on the classic noir genre, the majority of the settings are dark and gritty – but despite it all, there's literally only one short scene that collapses beneath crushing darkness. The outdoor nighttime scene in minute 66 is unnaturally consumed by the blacks. Aside from that, the black levels appear spot-on with how I remember the film looking when I saw it in theaters. Amidst the inky dark sections there are splashes of vivid coloring, many of which contrast the palette. Lit by pale fluorescent lights that drain the typically natural fleshtones out of the actors, the warm colors harmoniously clash and create a fitting and unique stylized look.
The sharpness and level of detail in 'Dead Man Down' is as good as it gets. Between nearly-closed window blinds, wall designs, patterned clothing and line-filled cityscapes, there are many opportunities for aliasing, but this Blu-ray never stoops to that level. Textures of clothing, porous facial features and hundreds of individual hairs on heads are some of the fine features that you're going to notice. The scars on Rapace's face are so defined that you can mentally run your finger over them and know exactly how they feel.
Aliasing isn't the only would-be flaw that's missing. There are several instances where I expected bands to appear, but alas, they're nowhere to be found. Digital noise is another element that's completely absent.
'Dead Man Down' comes with an impressive 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that's dynamic, engaging and completely complimentary to the on-screen images and the film's overall tone. It not only makes great use of active sound, but also uses silence and ambiance as an enhancer.
Effects are properly used to punch nearly every scene. During shootouts, gun shots and explosions pack a punch, dynamically lighting up all channels and placing you in the middle of the crossfire. The depth and resonance of this bassy mix definitely add to its efficiency. When warranted, LFE also blares with strength and power. These moments tend to get loud, adding an edge to the danger and violence.
When we're placed in the non-action environments, the effects are used to physically place you in that same location – be it a chaotic city street, a rusted and leaky abandoned freighter or 17 floors above the bustling New York City streets. These environments come to life via these subtle and minute effects.
Music and scoring are also seamlessly blended in to enhance picture. As a shootout erupts in the opening sequence against a group of Jamaican drug dealers, the pre-shootout bass-filled reggaeton music fittingly becomes the score. Other times, the score is so subtle and natural that it's almost unnoticeable.
Without fail, no matter which route the effects and score take – loud or soft – the vocals are always crisp and clear. They're never drowned out by the other sounds. You won't have to reach for the remote to adjust the audio one way or the other due to the mixing levels. The only cause of me reaching for the remote was to toggle the subtitles so that I could understand a single line that Farrell says with a thick Hungarian accent. Aside from that – which is by no means a flaw of the disc – the lossless audio mix is brilliant.
I first screened 'Dead Man Down' several weeks prior to its U.S. theatrical release, long before it had word-of-mouth or a Tomatometer score. After seeing it, I wiped the drool from my mouth and couldn't wait until embargo lifted so that I could actually talk about the film. When opening day arrived and I saw the consensus, I was appalled to learn that I was in the minority of people who loved it. To this day, I still have no idea what the hater gripes are about. 'Dead Man Down' is a solid noir-ish thriller. As if the complex characters and their dynamics aren't enough, it's built upon a solid story and features plenty of tense action to keep anyone entertained. And as if that's not enough, the performances by Noomi Rapace and Colin Farrell are perfectly extracted by Niels Arden Oplev's fantastic direction. What more could you ask for? The video and audio qualities are both near-perfect. The only aspect of this release that's lacking is the light amount of special features. Three brief featurettes are included – not one of them being noteworthy. But even then, 'Dead Man Down' continues to be one of my favorite films of 2013, a Blu-ray that I whole-heartedly recommend.