Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace are out for the kill in Dead Man Down

by Mark Burger

Dead Man Down (**) marks the English-language debut of filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev, who directed the original 2009 version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Essentially, he’s gone Hollywood — and sold out.

Despite bringing some trademark visual flourishes and leading lady Noomi  Rapace (the “original” Girl) along, Oplev’s stylish but cumbersome action thriller — reminiscent of Luc Besson’s work —suffers from draggy pacing and a convoluted script by JH Wyman.

Hard-bitten hit-man Victor (Colin Farrell) is blackmailed by neighbor Beatrice (Rapace) to kill the drunken driver who disfigured her in a car accident. Beatrice photographed Victor committing murder, and threatens him with the evidence. Why Victor doesn’t dispatch her right then and there is one of Dead Man Down’s many unanswered questions. (The general answer would be: because there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise.)

Victor and Beatrice are portrayed as tortured, damaged characters consumed by vengeance. Victor has been surreptitiously stirring up trouble between members of his own gang, trying to drive a wedge between its members and effect a complete meltdown, because they killed his wife and child years before. Having faked his own death — another inadequately explanation — he’s been biding his time, waiting for the opportune moment.

Victor’s scheme is so elaborate and complicated, to say nothing of time consuming, that it overshadows Beatrice’s, making hers almost extraneous (even unnecessary) to the overall plot. The film takes far too long arriving at is inevitable, bullet-riddled destination. It’s one thing to dangle clues or drop hints to the audience; it’s quite another to constantly spring plot twists and narrative shifts to plug the holes — and Dead Man Down is played far too straight to be considered a pastiche on its genre. It’s played so cool, actually, that it borders on the soulless.

Rapace and Farrell are striking screen personalities — both in looks and in presence — yet this film tends to waste their talents. They do the best they can, and might well have made a combustible screen duo with better material.

Also on hand are Terrence Howard, saddled yet again playing a silky but sadistic villain (which, admittedly, he does quite well), and Dominic Cooper as Victor’s unsuspecting buddy. It’s also nice to see F. Murray Abraham, Armand Assante and Isabelle Huppert (as Beatrice’s doting but deaf mother), even if theirs are only minor characters.

The film’s occasional attempts at a surreal atmosphere are evidently meant to justify (or excuse) lapses in logic. This is one of those films where a shoot-out — and a hanging — in midtown Manhattan in broad daylight barely arouses the interest of either passers-by or police, as if such actions were self-contained in its own universe. This is also the sort of film that defies any semblance of a happy ending (aside from box-office considerations) — yet here it is, and reeking of phoniness all the way. Dead Man Down is a missed opportunity all around.

The ABCs of Death is a collection of 26 shorts by 26 filmmakers, each one depicting (as the title implies) death. It’s not always a pretty picture — the squeamish are hereby forewarned — but it’s consistently a stylish one, with the anthology format preventing the viewer from becoming bored with any single vignette, as none lasts longer than a few minutes. It also goes without saying that the causes of death depicted here are anything but natural.

Xavier Gens, Ti West, Angela Bettis, Adam Wingard, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Yoshihiro Nishimura and Anders Morganthaler are among the cult-friendly helmers here, with Bettis’ “E is for Exterminate”, Wingard’s “Q is for Quack,” Pisanthanakun’s “N is for Nuptials” and Yudai Yamaguchi’s “J is for Jidai-geki” among the standouts. Speed is of the essence, and style supercedes substance. That’s entirely in keeping with this sort of film.

A few installments —Bruno Fozani’s “O is for Orgasm” and Noboru Igichi’s “F is for Fart” immediately come to mind — are impossible to adequately describe, particularly in tasteful terms — and it’s a surefire conclusion that they saved the weirdest for last: Nishimura’s “Z is for Zetsumetsu.” The better segments tend to be the most humorous (the gallows variety) and the most creative (not all are live-action). The lesser ones tend to fade from memory, quickly supplanted by a more successful successor. Overall, The ABCs of Death boasts a solid batting average throughout — for those, of course, who can take it.

The ABCs of Death is scheduled to open Friday at the Geeksboro Coffeehouse Cinema (2134 Lawndale Drive, Greensboro).

Producer/director Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush’s documentary A Place at the Table is a timely, well-meaning examination of hunger in this country.

The film identifies the problem, alerts the viewer that the system is broken and needs fixing, and offers possible solutions — yet does so in a mild fashion that occasionally seems at odds with the urgency of those interviewed, among them actor Jeff Bridges, activist Mariana Chilton and TV’s “Top Chef” Tom Colicchio (also an executive producer) — and might be better suited to the small screen.

Hunger is no longer a Third World problem, it’s our problem — and it affects millions of Americans daily. That much comes across in A Place at the Table, and if the film sparks debate and action, so much the better — and the healthier.

A Place at the Table will be screened 8 pm Monday, March 25 at the A/perture Cinema (311 W. 4th St., Winston-Salem), and is scheduled to open April 5 at the Geeksboro Coffeehouse Cinema.

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