Colin Farrell is a fine and versatile film actor, but hasn't always had the best of luck choosing scripts. In recent years, he's done well with character parts in films like Crazy Heart and the gross-out comedy Horrible Bosses, but not so well when asked to star.
Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths was pretty good, but in general Farrell has tended to turn up in action thrillers that might have been better written and directed, B pictures for the most part, unworthy of his undoubted talent.
His latest film is a perfect case in point. Directed by Danish filmmaker Niels Arden Oplev, whose credits include The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Dead Man Down is a bog standard revenge thriller that starts pretty smartly and even offers glimpses of moral complexity before collapsing into the kind of by-the-numbers drama that would insult the intelligence of a remedial mollusc.
Farrell is good – he's always good – but this is yet another film that doesn't give him enough to do.
He is Victor, a taciturn member of a drug gang run by a suave hoodlum called Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard). As the film opens, however, Alphonse has been rattled by a series of death threats sent in the post, and reckons a rival Jamaican gang are responsible.
So he, Victor, Darcy (Dominic Cooper) and a small posse of gunmen storm the Jamaicans' lair and shoot most of them dead.
Victor distinguishes himself by saving Alphonse's life.
What Alphonse doesn't know, however, is that those death threats were really sent by Victor, who isn't who he says he is at all. He's really Lazlo Kerick, a Hungarian immigrant who was living peaceably with his wife and young daughter in a building run by Alphonse and his boss, Lon Gordon (Armand Assante), when the gangsters told them they'd have to move out. When Lazlo refused things turned ugly, and his wife and child were shot dead.
Alphonse thinks Lazlo was killed too, but he survived, changed his name, shaved his beard off, worked hard on a convincing American accent and has been slowly and elaborately plotting his revenge.
His friend Darcy suspects nothing, but becomes a problem when he starts investigating the real source of those death threats. But Victor faces a far more serious threat closer to home.
A beautiful woman with a scar on her face has been watching him from the window of a neighbouring apartment. She introduces herself as Beatrice Louzon (Noomi Rapace), and tells Victor that she witnessed him killing a man. She will remain silent, for a price: she got the scar when her car was hit by a drunk driver, who got off scot-free. She's out for revenge too, and wants Victor to kill the culprit.
Perhaps one revenge story would have been enough for a film that loses energy midway through and overcompensates with a ridiculous and unlikely all-action climax.
Farrell, Howard and Cooper's characters throw shapes and talk at each other without ever coming to life, and the not-inconsiderable talents of F Murray Abraham and Isabelle Huppert are thrown away in small supporting roles.
Rapace is very good as the damaged and confused neighbour, and the emotionally charged scenes between her and Farrell are by far the best thing in this film.
But it's Victor's quest for revenge that we're asked to take seriously, and unfortunately he takes the guts of two hours getting around to it, boring his audience into weary and exhausted submission in the process.