Dead Man Down
After the international smash success of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”, it was only a matter of time before filmmaker Niels Oplev got the opportunity to helm a big American picture, and here it is with “Dead Man Down”. Clearly still pre-occupied with his previous ideas of revenge bracketed against a moody urban landscape, “Dead Man Down” retains Oplev’s visual flair but loses something in translation. Starring Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace as neighbors who form an uncommon bond of violence, “Dead Man Down” wants to be two things at once- a unique character romance and an action picture. She wants revenge for a drunk driving accident that caused a scar on her face and he’s in the middle of exacting revenge on a crime boss (Terence Howard) who killed his family years ago. Their relationship starts and stutters like a Justin Timberlake rom-com (complete with Rapace’s mother, played by Isabella Huppert, stressing over Tupperware) and then morphs into something a little more violent. The problem with “Dead Man Down”, besides its uneven grasping at genre, is that Oplev seems to be working in a hermetic universe that feels so out of touch. Men wander around New York City rooftops with guns, approach FedEx delivery men with assault rifles and carry out their actions with little ramifications on the larger world. It all just feels unrealistic and moody for the sake of being moody… .everything building to a resolution that’s at once unsatisfying chaotic and abbreviated David Fincher did the sulky black urban landscapes so much better years ago.
Another international director channeling his art house sensibilities to the mainstream American shores is Park Chan Wook with “Stoker”. Much like “Dead Man Down” above, the results are middling. What is terrific about “Stoker” is its mise-en-scene, calculated and choreographed as part fairy tale and part gothic horror…. Perfectly Park Chanian in one scene where the big murder happens and the frame is overtaken by a large bed where a head sticks out from the floor on one end and the blood splatter slowly drips down the wall on the left side of the frame. Starring “it” girl Mia Wasikowska, as India “Stoker” begins with the death of her father (Dermot Mulroney) and the arrival of creepy uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). Charlie and India clearly share a connection, even though mom (Nicole Kidman) has the hots for him too. What plays out is a decidedly awkward family drama, highlighted by Chan Wook’s twisted sub current of sexual deviation, dark family history and muted revenge. If “Stoker” doesn’t fully reach its potential for me it’s because I was once so over the moon about “Oldboy” and feel Chan-wook has yet to regain that level of meteoric filmmaking. In that film and his revenge trilogy, I felt something for the characters, whether it was sympathy, disgust or shudders. While “Stoker” is far from an empty exercise in style, Wasakowski’s India is a bit of a blank slate and the tone wavers a bit in its uncoiling of her eventual mental state. And while the idea of violence begetting violence thru the generations is an intriguing idea Cham-wook has been surveying over the years, “Stoker” is less convincing. Perhaps it’s a film that’ll grow on me.
The third film in Pablo Lorrain’s very angry trilogy about the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile is his best. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, “No” observes the campaign of the Chilean people to vote either yes or no to keep Pinochet in power in 1987. Combining actual news and advertisement footage with Lorrain’s choice to film on low grade VHS type celluloid creates a wave of immersion where the viewer never knows whether we’re in the artificial 80’s footage or back to real life. Though that choice is a head scratcher (and visually terrible at times), it works. Lorrain is an actively political filmmaker, not without his leftist nudges and completely unbiased point of view, of course. Propaganda aside, “No” succeeds through its niche subject to not only give us a wholly believable main character- Bernal, ad man who becomes the driving conceptual force behind the “no” television commercial campaign- but an enveloping sense of time and place.