There are intricately plotted films that slowly unfold over the course of a couple of hours doling out little bits of constantly relevant information over time. The plot and the characters are so thoroughly intertwined that the film takes on a form of realism that’s almost uncanny. While not to be confused with the 1968 Michael Caine classic or the 1992 Nicolas Cage campfest, Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Deadfall wants so desperately to have a labyrinthine plot that aims for realism, but just ends up being a mess. It tries to cram so much into 95 minutes in terms of plot that it leaves almost no room for actual characters to develop outside of a core group of traits ticked off a list.
Shortly after getting released from a Detroit correctional facility for fixing a boxing match, Jay, a disgraced Beijing Olympics silver medalist played by Charlie Hunnam, attempts to make his way home for Thanksgiving but not before beating a man nearly to death after a brutal attack. As a massive blizzard starts closing all roads out of town, Jay meets up with Liza (Olivia Wilde), half of a pair of thieves who have split up following the heist of a casino, a car crash, and her deranged brother (Eric Bana) killing a cop. Shivering and wearing only an evening gown, Jay takes Liza under his wing and begins to have feelings for her while they both try to figure out how to get out of their respectively awful situations without telling each other what’s truly going on.
That synopsis doesn’t begin to encapsulate the entire plot. There are side stories and peripheral characters abound here. A young small town deputy sheriff (Kate Mara) is counting her days before leaving to work at the FBI so she doesn’t have to be looked down on by her co-workers and her douchy sheriff father (Treat Williams). Bana’s character has several bloody encounters before actually rejoining the story including a bit where he offs an abusive father at a cabin in the woods, a scene that makes his character the most developed while adding nothing to the story at all other than padding and edge. Then there’s the matter of Sissy Spacek as Jay’s doting and kindly mother and Kris Kristofferson as the father that thinks he’s a disgrace to the family and himself.
There’s not much to Deadfall other than simply listing the plot points that end up going almost in the exact direction one would expect them to. It’s a film that feels like it has had a good thirty minutes cut from it. Very rarely do these characters get a chance to talk and express who they really are. The cast does a great job, especially Wilde and Bana, the latter of whom seems to really be relishing the chance to be nasty again on screen and their almost incestuous chemistry together adds some spark while they’re together. But overall, there’s no backbone to the story other than just constantly streaming the specifics. Mara suffers the worst of it on the opposite end of the scale in a truly thankless role that doesn’t give her anything to do outside of being the mousy, looked down upon woman in an all boys club that gets yelled at all the time. There isn’t a single character that can’t be summed up in three words or less, which is depressing to see with such an elaborate construct, and an ending that hinges on convenience and utter coincidence means the overstuffing didn’t have much purpose to begin with.
Ruzowitzky brings the same cold, and snowy visual style that served him well in his Academy Award winning foreign film The Counterfeiters, but there’s not much he can do with a script that has aspirations to ape John Dahl, the Coen Brothers, and Sam Raimi at the same time. It’s not that Deadfall is a particularly hard film to follow, but it’s kind of the equivalent of the dangerous back roads showcased in the film. There’s lots of great scenery around wherever you look, but it’s flat and you’re still travelling a straight line for a long time while you see the destination from far away coming into sharper focus the closer you get to it.
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