Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Dead Man Down; two movies collide, destroying each other

There's a good movie to be made about a woman who blackmails a hitman into murdering someone she's cross with, and this week's top tip is don't try to make that movie while you're busy making that old reliable, a movie about a guy taking complicated revenge on the people who killed his wife and daughter. It's too late to save Dead Man Down, but who knows, other people might benefit.

Probably the most unexpected and exciting thing that happened at tonight's screening was when the movie abruptly turned into a spoken word performance about fifteen minutes in. Since it was already showing signs of pretensions towards mild artiness, it took a couple of minutes before I was absolutely sure that the projector had gone on holidays, rather than the director's sanity. No, I eventually concluded, this is not the director making a point about how anger can blind us, this is the projectionist falling asleep. Since I was - as usual - the entire audience, there was no-one to make a fuss, and so I improved my understanding of the world around me by going to look for the projectionist. I might as well have gone looking for the organist or the hatcheck girl; the Hidden City fleapit long ago replaced all its projectionists with computers, and the computers were doing what they do best. I wandered out to the ticket desk, half wondering if I really cared enough to ask them to do something about it, or if I could just head on home and catch up on my macrame, but curiosity got the better of me - not so much about what was going to happen in the movie, as about what might happen if I asked them what was wrong.

So they wound the movie back to where things had gone wrong - no, wait, that makes it sound as though they somehow burst through the space time continuum and wound it back to the point where someone wrote the screenplay. Sorry, I mean, they wound it back to the point where the picture dropped out, and I resumed my scheduled feature presentation, wondering idly if they'd even broken even on the electricity it was taking to run this movie to a packed house of me and my anorak.

Still, I was spinning my lonely wheels in exalted company. Colin Farrell was up there, brooding through stubble in the role that Arnie was born to play (and did, to death). His character, Victor, is supposed to be Hungarian, and in a more deft nod to the difficulty of accent than anything Arnie ever did, his lack of a Hungarian accent is explained away as being due to him going to a lot of trouble to lose the accent. Noomi Rapace was there, playing psycho Audrey Tautou meets the Phantom of the Opera. That seems to be down to the director saying something on the lines of "Didn't we have fun in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? With the raping and the beating and the near-murdering and all that other fun? Wasn't that great? Wouldn't it be fun to do that again for REAL money in America?" Isabelle Huppert, is there, playing Noomi's dotty mom. Bill Murray famously doesn't have an agent, and I sometimes think it's because he's seen the trouble Isabelle Huppert gets into by relying on whatever Madame Sosostris it is that reads the tealeaves and picks her next part. If Isabelle Huppert did more work, she'd be the French chic equivalent of 80s Michael Caine. And there's a whole bunch of utility heavies, organised on the usual Hollywood no-that-doesn't-make-a-bit-of-sense gang lines. Off to one side, there's a bunch of Albanians, clannish, moronic and deadly; but elsewhere America's criminal underbelly is the ultimate equal opportunity employer, full of gangs of criminals hired purely on - hell if I know, really, but obviously not on such obvious things as hiring within the family and long time friends. Total stranger with a good line of patter and/or all over tattoos? You're hired. Background checks are so mainstream; we're edgy modern apartment-flipping criminals (they're not just murdering scumbags, they're murdering scumbags in real estate).

Colin Farrell's mission is to kill all those dudes, which he duly does in an extended climactic boomfest that seems to have parachuted into the movie from some other world entirely. Noomi Rapace meanwhile has been starring in an extended character drama about a fey beautician who dreams of avenging herself on the drunk driver who smashed her face up and got away with it. Colin spends a lot of the movie's running time visiting her there, and indulging her fantasy that they're in some class of a high-end euro-drama about life and consequence and painteresque silences and non-sequiturs from daffy Isabelle Huppert. Then he'll go off and brood some among his caches of dynamite and home movies. 

There is some mad fun to be had from just thinking about the layers of acting going on. Colin's an Irishman playing a Hungarian pretending to be an American. Noomi is a Swede playing an American with a French mother. It's never really clear why all those intermediate nationalities are needed; Colin could perfectly well have been an Irishman on a revenge trip, requiring exactly zero accent shifts. But he has to be eastern European for all those shady connections and heavy weapons, you object. Tchah. This is Hollywood; as all visitors to this blog know, Ireland is the world's clearing house for dodgy weapons of all kinds.

I kind of wish they'd just made the movie Noomi thinks she's in, because that would have been a pretty interesting film. Colin would have been well up to the challenge; not only can he act, but he's got a real knack for the loveable rogue who, when you get to know him, is really not that loveable. And that movie would have had none of the rest of the cast in it, which couldn't have helped but make it better. A little bit of me cringed when I saw that it was partly produced by the WWE empire, and then on walked the various gangsters and I realised what WWE had contributed. Possibly there's a producers' cut somewhere with a whole bunch of gratuitous wrestling in it.

But we didn't get the nice simple Noomi Rapace movie, because someone, specifically the writer, thought that intercutting two stories into one movie would work. It works on TV, because we've had twenty plus previous episodes to get to know everyone and feel the subtext. Movies; you've got one shot. You make that shot count. If you want to shoot with both hands, you'd better be goddam Leonardo da Vinci, and no-one in this movie comes anywhere close.

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