“Dead Man Down” is a moody and mysterious thriller that mostly works until it opts for an over-the-top ending that makes the film a little more difficult to take seriously.
The picture is directed by Niels Arden Oplev, who is responsible for the Swedish productions of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” trilogy and, much like those movies, the filmmaker’s latest is set in a world of shady characters who seem to draw violence to themselves.
It’s difficult to discuss the plot without giving away too many of its numerous surprises. So, to keep it simple, I can say that Colin Farrell plays Victor, a strong-arm in some sort of criminal syndicate in a barely recognizable New York City.
Victor’s boss, Alphonse (Terrence Howard), is trying to find out who has been bumping off his men and leaving cryptic notes as clues.
Meanwhile, Victor has also befriended Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), a young woman who lives in the building across from him and is recovering from a car accident that left her permanently scarred. But it is soon discovered that she has ulterior motives for their friendship.
“Dead Man Down” is compelling as we piece together the puzzle of who and, more importantly, why Alphonse’s syndicate is being picked off. And while the relationship between Victor and Beatrice is fraught, we are genuinely interested in seeing them both work through their various, let’s say, issues.
But the story ends with a wall-to-wall action sequence that breaks the moody tone of the picture and nearly threatens to unravel the movie.
Much like Chan-wook Park’s recent “Stoker,” Oplev’s English language debut hits the right notes in terms of mood and style, but lacks slightly in the storytelling department.
Sam Raimi’s “Oz, the Great and Powerful” is another film of good intentions that gets some things right, while not exactly being a success.
The picture is set in 1905, some 30 years prior to Dorothy’s trip down the yellow brick road. In this film, Oz (James Franco) is a huckster in a traveling circus, shamming audience members and romancing every available woman.
While fleeing from a strongman whose woman he attempted to woo, Oz makes his getaway in a hot air balloon and is sucked via tornado to the faraway land that just happens to bear his name.
The rest of Raimi’s movie tells the tale of how Oz became the man behind the curtain.
Not surprisingly, the strongest elements in the film are its visuals and special effects, which are richer than many other effects-heavy movies of this type.
There’s an especially clever sequence during the film’s finale in which Oz and his cohorts use the magic of filmmaking to trick some wicked witches into thinking their powers are no match for the grifter magician.
The movie’s performances are a little trickier. It’s not that the cast fails to give it their best, but rather they are making do with uneven characters, especially Mila Kunis, whose Theodora goes from being sympathetic to completely sinister in the blink of an eye.
And it’s a shame that Raimi brings very few of the personal touches to this movie that typically distinguish his pictures from your average expensive-looking blockbuster. There’s none of the playfulness of his “Evil Dead” movies or, even, “Drag Me to Hell” to be found here. Instead, we get the typical finale of two powerful beings shooting energy forces from their hands at one another.
That being said, “Oz” had some pretty enormous shoes to fill as Victor Fleming’s 1939 film is one of cinema’s most beloved classics. Raimi's film has its moments – and it’s certainly a step above 1985’s “Return to Oz.”
Both “Dead Man Down” and “Oz, the Great and Powerful” are playing at The Pavilion on Prospect Park West.