Review: DEADFALL

This lurid little thriller would be of little interest had it not been for the near A-list cast and Oscar winning director. “Deadfall” would be right at home on a pay cable station.

Director Stefan Ruzowitzky brings little more than familiar low-budget pacing and entertaining bits of violence to “Deadfall.” This is surprising given his Oscar victory for “The Counterfeiters” in 2008 in the best foreign language movie category. His foray into American cinema should have been better, especially given the fact that he has a wonderful cast on which to draw upon. On paper the actors must of been excited about working with Ruzowitzky, but everyone has to be extremely disappointed with the end result.

This middling crime flick concerns a brother and sister team (played by Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde) that rob a casino and then find themselves without a ride during a blizzard. They split up after shooting a cop (for really no reason). From there, pursued by the police, they have their own odyssey until their journey ultimately leads them to the home of a troubled couple. Aside from the slick thriller elements that play out in formulaic fashion, Kris Kristofferson and Sissy Spacek are the only thing of note. They make a convincing couple, but they need a better story built around their characters. Spacek gives us a performance approaching the same tone she employed with “In the Bedroom,” and Kristofferson makes a fitting disgruntled mate. Unfortunately, they aren’t given enough to do as the story focuses on an incestuous love triangle. The subplot involving an ex-con boxer played Charlie Hunnam (“Sons of Anarchy”), who snares Wilde’s character’s heart, is lazy and not credible. A more interesting film would have been what happens next after the predictable conclusion.

“Deadfall” feels like a lot of different movies including “Fargo,” at times. But it’s cheaper and less interested in making us care for the characters and their plight. The dialogue is often plot driven and has no authentic feel. Aside from brief scenes involving Kristofferson and Spacek, none of the characters ever seem to really talk with one another, which makes them all lack dimension and interest.

Compare William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe,” released earlier this year. While Friedkin goes more lurid with his film, he and his writer seem to know how far to go in order to engage us in the story on a meaningful level. There are smart bits of ugly exposition in “Killer Joe” that frustrated me at first, but ultimately I knew all the characters well enough to get into what was going on. “Deadfall” strips away the talk and personalization in favor of violence and plot development. The potential is there for Ruzowitzky to transcend the b-movie material, but he pulls back playing it safe, and instead of making his selfish and dangerous characters unredeemable, he softens the edginess as the film concludes. Note that another director, Brad Anderson, had a similar time making a transition into this kind of material when he followed up his 2004 film “The Machinist” with “Transsiberian.”

A forgettable venture into the Hollywood arena, director Ruzowitzky needs a weightier script to match and challenge his on-screen talent the next time around.

About Jonathan W. Hickman

Jonathan W. Hickman is a filmmaker, writer, and attorney living in metro Atlanta. His first novel, THE TASTER, is available in bookstores and online.