Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace are dead together, and it’s not just because the characters they play in Dead Man Down are dead inside. The two stars, who would seem to be well-matched, have nothing but dead space between them. This is partly the fault of the script (by J.H. Wyman of Fringe), which gives them little to say to each other—Victor (Farrell) and Beatrice (Rapace) are damaged goods hell-bent on revenge, with destructive pasts instead of personalities. Rapace has it worse: Beatrice is so obsessed with the drunk driver who caused the car crash that scarred her face that she tries to manipulate some really nasty situations to her own revenge scheme. It would seem that she had some serious mental-health issues even before the accident, despite the inclusion of a very miscast Isabelle Huppert as the kindly mother she lives with.
Their high-rise apartment has a view of the one where Victor lives. A thug in the employ of Alphonse (Terrence Howard), a silky, mid-level capo in a vast real-estate corruption ring, Victor is not who he seems: He has eradicated his Hungarian accent and past life as an engineer with a military background. Both these skill sets come in handy when he puts his revenge scheme into action. That Beatrice has blackmailed Victor into killing the drunk driver for her seems to be just a road bump—at first.
Directed with grim efficiency by Niels Arden Oplev, the Danish auteur who elevated The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo into an international hit (and Rapace into a sensation), Dead Man Down never creates the sense of menace and twisted justice as did his Swedish film. The plot has the usual crime-drama faults: Victor does some stupid things for someone so clever—one of them being how he allowed his neighbor to witness his first murderous chess move. Another is that Beatrice, despite Rapace’s intensity, just isn’t believable. Her scars are not disfiguring enough to ruin her beauty, and though she’s a beautician, she doesn’t even try to diminish their appearance. The growing attraction between Beatrice and Victor sputters instead of smolders, and as Victor’s diabolical retribution causes chaos within the crime ring, Alphonse, who does not appear to be a sociopath, becomes more sympathetic—and interesting—than either of them.