Editor’s Note: Deadfall opened in limited release on December 7th, and is also available on VOD
First there is the snowy silence of the winter wilderness as the camera sketches out the small details of this cold countryside. Then there is the chaotic cacophony as a vehicle comes flying through the air, wreaking unwelcome havoc on this rural peace. Its passengers are the siblings Addison and Liza, fleeing the scene of a casino heist; its driver their accomplice, instantly killed as their car collides with a deer and veers off-road into a snow bank. They are the heart of Deadfall, a dramatic thriller that sees the pair part ways to evade the authorities: she meeting and falling in love with a just-released convict; he taking refuge in the fractured home of a family he encounters in the wilds.
…it’s hard not to wonder if the entire script isn’t the output of a teenaged scribe; such facetiously juvenile portraits of adult relationships deprive the film of any and all thematic heft.
It’s not to dismiss the talent of Charlie Hunnam to say that his performance’s ranking as the film’s finest bodes poorly for the remainder of the cast. Hardly distinguished from his role on Sons of Anarchy, he excels in moments of aggression and anger yet struggles when entrusted with more reserved a register, his work within the romantic scenes with Olivia Wilde severely limited in its emotional expressivity. Wilde herself hardly aids matters, wandering through her scenes as lacking in presence as is her questionably written character. More troubled still is Eric Bana, saddled with an accent he struggles to maintain and an arc so lumbered with cliché it never transcends caricature. Even the supporting cast reveal themselves as unworthy of that name, none but the fine Sissy Spacek doing much to lift the dead weight that is the film’s leads.
Credit is due Zach Dean’s screenplay for at least attempting to imbue a staid thriller formula with some sense of thematic agency; his characters abound with mommy and daddy issues, each defined by their inability to come to terms with some crippling failing of familial structure. An uneasy, largely effective, sexual tension enshrouds every scene between Bana and Wilde, the unspoken but unmissable scars of childhood abuse remdering this a relationship defined by past traumas. Hunnam’s is a story just as serviceable, its familiarities aside: an Olympic silver medallist, his abandonment of his potential as a boxer makes daunting the return to the family home. It’s in the subplot of Kate Mara as a deputy in the locality newly accepted to the FBI Academy that the cracks in Deadfall begin to show: so forced and facile is her relationship to her father—the sheriff, no less—that it’s hard not to wonder if the entire script isn’t the output of a teenaged scribe; such facetiously juvenile portraits of adult relationships deprive the film of any and all thematic heft.
The snow-laden rurality is as blank canvas to Ruzowitzky, whose confident camera placement constitutes the broad brush strokes that make this a pretty picture, if rather an empty one.
An Oscar to his name from The Counterfeiters—albeit more for the film itself than for his direction thereof—Stefan Ruzowitzky is more concerned with the look of the film than with its narrative consistency, bringing a competent hand to guide the visual side of proceedings to an end ever more effective than the story. His is a sharp eye given to economic shots that serve character and composure at once; while not able to rescue the narrative from its ocean of issues, he at least manages to put its setting to use in attractively presenting an underwhelming tale. The snow-laden rurality is as blank canvas to Ruzowitzky, whose confident camera placement constitutes the broad brush strokes that make this a pretty picture, if rather an empty one.
All the good intent in the world can’t save Deadfall from its interminably flat fate; try as they might, none of its major players can salvage this sordid stew of half-hashed thematic intent and trite thriller tropes. It’s the failure to serve its considerable potential which makes the most offensive the end result: in the expressiveness of Ruzowitzky’s direction, in the better moments of Hunnam’s performance, in the grounded reality of Wilde and Bana’s siblings, in the script’s layered approach to familial strife, in the combined talents of these people there lies a great movie; in Deadfall there certainly does not.
[notification type=”star”]50/100 ~ MEDIOCRE. All the good intent in the world can’t save Deadfall from its interminably flat fate; try as they might, none of its major players can salvage this sordid stew of half-hashed thematic intent and trite thriller tropes.[/notification]