2013, Niels Arden Oplev
As a huge fan of Niels Arden Oplev’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, I was immediately excited by the prospect of him reuniting with his Lisbeth Salander, actress Noomi Rapace who had already made the transition into English-language filmmaking in the years since their first teaming brought them massive success. The more the pieces fell together, the more I was getting excited about Dead Man Down, as it lined up a superb cast that included Dominic Cooper, Terrence Howard and Isabelle Huppert, all led by Rapace and the great Colin Farrell. The film premiered to a heavy amount of negative reviews and while it did end up being a disappointment to me after such high anticipation, I still liked it a great deal more than most.
The story sets itself up very awkwardly, taking a while to bring the many different plot points together in a coherent way but Oplev still brings an enveloping atmosphere to it and Farrell and Rapace provide engaging presence for their parts. Everything with Howard’s character and the inner-workings of the criminal environment that Farrell has embedded himself in remains the weak point of the story from start to finish, but once everything kicks up a gear this takes a big backseat to the core element of the evolving dynamic between Farrell and Rapace and that’s where the film finds its greatest strength.
These two actors are among my favorites working right now and unsurprisingly they provide an interesting chemistry that shifts convincingly through different phases across the duration of the film. Dead Man Down drops into some very silly moments on occasion, the prime example being their first date which introduces the blackmail plot in a ludicrous fashion, and while these moments don’t shine a good light on either performer they still manage to persevere and elevate the film overall.
If it weren’t for them this one definitely wouldn’t even be half the film that it ended up being. Thankfully they’re around and can make up for some of the weaker moments in an admittedly suffering script from the usually talented J.H. Wyman. I also have to give a little shout to Dominic Cooper, who plays a character far removed from anything we’ve seen from him before and pulls it off incredibly well. He could have stolen the show if he had been given a bit more screentime and I especially wish we could have gotten more out of the relationship between him and Farrell, but at the very least it’s a scene-stealing little piece of work from a talented young actor.
Overall, Dead Man Down is a pretty generic action picture with some flaws that drag it down but I had a good time with it and if nothing else Farrell and Rapace make for a strong dynamic that kept me engaged throughout. The themes on revenge, the consequences of such and whether or not that thirst can ever truly be quenched provides an interesting subtext running through it all, again elevated due to the performances from its two leads. It may not have met the high hopes I once had for it, but I still hold a much stronger opinion of it than most who have seen it. It’s certainly not up to the high watermark that Oplev and Rapace set with their first collaboration, but I really hope the two continue to work together for years to come.
Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paddy Considine, Jason Clarke.
Just breathe that in.
2013, Brian De Palma
When thinking of directors who have fallen from grace, Brian De Palma is one of the first that should come to mind and for good reason. Since breaking out with Sisters in 1973, the 72-year old’s career has charted a path that would see him rise to great critical success with films like Carrie and The Untouchables before taking a sharp decline in the ’90s with efforts such as The Bonfire of the Vanities and Mission to Mars, a descent that he has yet to recover from. His new film Passion, starring Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace, isn’t going to bring him back to his former glory but I’d wager that it’s easily the best thing he’s done since 1996’s Mission: Impossible at the very least.
A remake of the 2010 French film Love Crime, which starred Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier in the central roles, De Palma’s take on Passion is a much more surface-level thriller about professional rivalries and sexual politics on the corporate ladder. Anyone familiar with the director’s work should know exactly what to expect when going into a film of his that is blazoned with the label of “erotic thriller”, and while Passion takes a little too long to get things going, once it does it ascends into the kind of full-on De Palma camp that any fan of his should delight in seeing on screen again. His 2006 effort The Black Dahlia was a massive disappointment as it never seemed to be able to figure out its tone — it was too serious to be camp and too campy to be serious — and Passion flirts with that identity crisis early on but once it reaches its midway point and fully embraces the absurdity of its plot it becomes the kind of wickedly fun and outrageous slice of kitsch that is characteristic of the man behind the camera.
It’s not too surprising that the reception for this one so far hasn’t been too overjoyed (his earlier efforts were often polarizing as well), but it seems like for the first time in a long while De Palma has finally gotten a handle on his own identity as a filmmaker, and I hope he continues to keep this kind of awareness of himself going forward. While Passion at first comes off like a stilted and pointless remake of an already solid film, once the first big twist comes into play (one that is handled with much less weight than it was in the original) De Palma gives the audience an extra jolt of extremity by turning the final act into his own entirely unique creation.
Love Crime held its homoeroticism as subtext, but De Palma has never been one for subtlety and he throws it front and center here, navigating an impressively ambiguous sea of sexual intrigue between many of the characters fighting this war of social and professional stakes. One of the more refreshing things about Passion is that for all of its over-the-top camp I really admired the way that it approached sexual identity on the whole here, never addressing the sexuality of any of its characters and instead having them traverse through romantic interactions with members of both sexes as if it were anything else. De Palma has never been one to shy away from the kind of softcore pornography that his thrillers often entail and Passion for better or worse fits in line with that, but there’s a kind of intelligence and modernism going along with it that I don’t think we’ve seen from the director before.
His cast is hit or miss, but it’s fun to see the great and constantly evolving Rapace doing something that we haven’t seen her come anywhere near up to this point and Rachel McAdams is without a doubt the perfect vessel for the kind of characteristic kitsch that De Palma is making his return to with this film (her Christine here feels like Regina George ten years later). I would love to see them work together again somewhere down the line, and it’s nice to see this surge in her profile and versatility that she’s been getting into this year after slipping a bit in the past few. Passion won’t convert any detractors over to De Palma’s side of things, but for longtime fans who have been wanting something genuinely exciting from him for the past few decades, it could be the thing to give you some faith that he’s still got it in him. We’ve seen him trying out new things and failing more often than not for a while now, but his best film in years is a result of him returning to his very big and campy roots.