The original Swedish film of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was no masterpiece, but it turned Noomi Rapace into an international star, and it gave its director, Niels Arden Oplev, the pick of every screenplay in Hollywood for his English-language debut. He’s said that the script of Dead Man Down was by far the best of the 250 he read – so one can only imagine how dreary the other 249 were.
It’s not that the screenplay is disastrous, exactly. It is what it is: an uninspired revenge yarn about an engineer (Colin Farrell), who infiltrates a low-rent criminal gang in New York two years after they murdered his wife and daughter and left him for dead. He’s planning to torment and then kill their generically heartless leader (Terrence Howard), but when his neighbour (Rapace) spots him throttling one of the bad guys, she ropes him into a revenge plot of her own. The deal is that she won’t shop him to the police as long as he dispatches the drunk driver who left her with a badly scarred face – although this being a mainstream film, it’s not as badly scarred as everyone says.
The story is pure pulp, from its twee romance to its preposterous action sequences, so it might have been worked up into a dynamic, sleazy, 90-minute B movie. But Oplev takes it seriously as only a Scandinavian can. He seems to think he’s making a sombre drama examining New York’s demi-monde, and the result is a silly, trashy thriller that’s nonetheless drawn-out and miserable, with far too many shots of people sitting and frowning at each other.
Most of the film’s entertainment value, such as it is, comes from trying to figure out how Oplev and Co settled on the characters’ ethnic backgrounds. Farrell, who’s Irish, plays a recent immigrant from Hungary with an American accent, while Rapace, who’s Swedish, plays a French woman who lives with her mother, Isabelle Huppert.