Have you ever seen The Professional, with Jean Reno and Natalie Portman? If you haven’t, stop reading right now and go watch it. Seriously, I’ll wait……Finished? You’re welcome. My point is that Dead Man Down has a lot in common with The Professional, except that it’s inferior in every way. I’m not saying that as a negative – The Professional is a phenomenal film – Dead Man Down is a well-constructed movie, with a good story and strong acting. I just wanted to make sure you saw The Professional, for two reasons. One, it’s the inspiration for movies like Dead Man Down, and two, it’s one of the best and most underrated films ever made. For Dead Man Down to follow in its footsteps and not suck is almost a monumental achievement.
(Beware – spoilers coming, though nothing that will ruin the movie.)
In Dead Man Down, Colin Farrell plays Victor, a Hungarian immigrant whose family was killed by a crime lord named Alphonse (Terrence Howard). Victor, who was assumed to have died with his family, has infiltrated Alphonse’s inner circle, intent on avenging his family’s death. The movie begins with Alphonse receiving threats from a mystery person who also leaves pieces of a photograph as a puzzle (and taunt) for Alphonse. For the first half of the movie or so, you won’t be sure that Victor is the mystery person, but they don’t really try to hide it. What is important is that he scaring the crap out of Alphonse, as well as the other people who had a hand in his family’s death.
Mixed into the story are two other important characters –Darcy (Dominic Cooper) and Beatrice (Noomi Rapace). Darcy is a friend of Victor, and also part of Alphonse’s crew, who takes it upon himself to uncover the person behind the threats. He’s also the one person on the crew who Victor doesn’t want to get hurt because he has a family. Beatrice lives in an apartment building across from Victor’s and the two eventually go out on a date after staring across at each other for weeks. During the date, we learn that Beatrice was maimed in a terrible car accident by a drunk driver who escaped punishment. Beatrice reveals to Victor that she has proof of Victor committing a murder and blackmails him into killing the drunk driver. Those are the elements making up the plot and you should be able to see the similarities to The Professional now, especially in the characters delivered by Farrell and Rapace, which are reflections of Jean Reno’s Leon and Natalie Portman’s Mathilda.
Like Leon, Victor is a reclusive killer focused on the task at hand, the difference being Leon was simply a contract killer, where Victor is hell-bent on revenge. Each of them are tortured souls in their own way and are forced to open up when a desperate woman invades their lives. In that, Mathilda and Beatrice are similar, as well as seeking revenge against the man who ruined their lives. They both become accomplices/students to Leon/Victor and push the men outside of their carefully built and fragile realities while forcing them to explore emotions that had either buried or never knew they had. This is the crux of both films and is what really makes them so absorbing and involved. Without these incredibly fascinating characters, the movies would be dull action flicks you’d have trouble staying awake through.
As I said earlier, Dead Man Down doesn’t reach the depth or emotion of The Professional, but it does grab hold of you with a similar flow and strong main characters. Where it falls short of The Professional are in an ending that is a bit of a letdown and in a villain (Alphonse) that isn’t nearly as complex or well-developed as its heroes (and isn’t even in the same ballpark as Gary Oldman’s Norman Stansfield). Neither of those things are bad; they just keep the movie from reaching the next level on which The Professional sits. But, then, how many films are on that level?
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and go watch The Professional again. Seriously, go.