Even the most broken heart can be mended.–Darcy
How can a film with Colin Farrell, Terence Howard, and Noomi Rapace be “under the radar?” Dwarfed in marketing by Oz the Great and Powerful, Dead Man Down didn’t have a chance. But for those into thick (and somewhat convoluted) plots, dripping with dark thriller noir (directed by Niels Arden Oplev of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo fame), then the story of one man’s revenge for the death of his family and one woman’s quest for vengeance for her horrible disfiguring may be just the home entertainment you ordered.
Victor (Farrell) is undercover inside the organization of drug mastermind Alphonse (Howard), picking off the drug runner’s crew one-by-one as he attempts to avenge his wife and daughter’s deaths; Beatrice (Rapace) catches Victor killing a man on videotape and blackmails him, hoping he will kill the drunk driver who robbed her of her beauty and job security. Both of them are drawn into the crosshair of Alphonse’s man Darcy (Dominic Cooper), another enterprising criminal whose new family gives him a sense of gravitas, who is investigating the deaths of Alphonse’s crew, and discovers Victor’s involvement. But Victor has a rival gang leader hostage and works to play the two crews off of each other, drawing more villains into the plot.
What could have been a simple, dark tale of vengeance instead morphs into a slow boiling tale that challenges the audience to consider what the best outcome would be. We feel for both Victor and Beatrice as they struggle with their pain and their rage, but we also recognize a la Zero Dark Thirty that the quest for violent vengeance is costing the pair something in return. The Confucian saying, “when seeking revenge, first dig two graves,” bears witness here, but in this case it may be three! And Victor’s complicity in leading Beatrice to want revenge doubly compounds the damage that both of them experience, because she didn’t want revenge until she saw Victor kill the man in his apartment.
We don’t know for the majority of the film who will survive unscathed. It’s clear that Victor has been sullied by his undercover time in the organization, and in his exacted revenge. And we know that Victor wants to keep Beatrice clean and clear of having actually caused someone’s death, whether it was justified or not. She’s mentally entertained it, but the distinction is made between thinking about and doing it, considering the violent deed and perpetrating it. But in Matthew 5:21, Jesus links the thinking about and the doing, as if our hearts have been corrupted by the very contemplation of murder, and the degrees of descent into this shadowy world show that no one gets away completely clean.
Dead Man Down is a bloody parable about justice, vengeance, and pain, that will entertain you but will likely force you to consider the slippery slope of revenge.