It’s counterproductive, yes, to wonder what might have been, and yet: What would it have looked like if someone like James Gray (The Yards, We Own the Night) – with his facility for immigrant turf wars and devastating stylizations that enhance, not drown out, the narrative – had helmed Dead Man Down instead? The Danish director Niels Arden Oplev, who filmed the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and makes his English-language debut here, doesn’t share the same affinity for nuance or depth of character. Indeed, when an early shootout erupts with a reggae-beat score, it’s clear this director sees carnage as nothing more than an opportunity for music-video production values.
Scripted by J.H. Wyman (The Mexican, TV's Fringe), Dead Man Down derives most of its tension the wrong way: by needlessly overcomplicating plot delivery. This isn't edge-of-your-seat stuff – it's scratch-your-head – but it isn't revealing too much to say that the forever-underused Colin Farrell is the best thing about this sorely lacking thriller. He plays Victor, a tormented second lieutenant to Terrence Howard's vaguely defined crime boss. Noomi Rapace, Oplev's original Lisbeth Salander, is Beatrice, a damaged soul living in the apartment across from Victor's, weirdly done up in midriff-baring printed shirts that recall hospital gowns. They make eyes across the alleyway and eventually meet for a first date that hard-turns into something of a mutually beneficial arrangement, à la Strangers on a Train. The allusion to Hitchcock, alas, is fruitless: While the film's revenge fixation was certainly in Hitch's wheelhouse, the master of suspense never needed heavy ordnance to get his point across.