A captivating, if slightly uninspired, tale of two lost souls.
Niels Arden Oplev’s (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) first english-language film is a bit of a double edged sword. It manifests his talents as a director, especially one with a European touch that could become a big presence in Hollywood. On the other, the script from J.H. Wyman (Fringe) just doesn’t have quite enough meat on its bones. Yet, in anyone else’s hands, the results probably wouldn’t have been as good. Oplev is able to take the story, which could have big melodramatic overtones, and keep it all subdued, giving everything just enough rise when it needs it. It makes for a film that has a great neo-noir look and even if flat at times, holds interest throughout.
The story he’s working with revolves around Victor (Colin Farrell), a mobster under the tutelage of Alphonse (Terrence Howard), who comes into contact with his neighbor Beatrice (Noomi Rapace). Her face has recently been reconstructed after a car crash and is dealing with issues of insecurity. While their meeting is under the pretense that she likes him (which, if quite honestly, is an obvious aspect of the film but one which Oplev handles well), she actually confesses that she saw, and recorded, him killing a man. She threatens to turn him over to the police, but will resist if he kills the man who caused her car accident and only received three weeks in jail for his DUI. Through this arrangement, as if Victor has any choice, their lives become entangled and even a friendship develops. But Victor has a secret of his own, he’s actually working to bring down Alphonse and his operation, because he was responsible for the death of Victor’s wife and daughter years before.
Where Oplev really succeeds is with the relationship of Victor and Beatrice. She blackmails him, believing him to be some hardened gangster who kills for fun. But she soon learns that he’s as broken as, if not much more so than, her. They both live in the past, wishing they could undo what’s done and embrace vengeance as their only solution to mend their hurt. What doesn’t hurt is the chemistry between Farrell and Rapace which is strong , if restrained, and reluctantly brings them both back to life. Oplev allows their budding relationship to breathe rather than forcing it to grow. From the beginning, there’s an obvious spark but Beatrice’s blackmail threatens to squash it. It’s only as they spend more time together, initially through plans on how to kill the man, but also because Beatrice’s Mother Maman (Isabelle Huppert) is obviously clueless to their plan and only sees a possible relationship, pushing Beatrice towards him while treating him as an object of Beatrice’s affection, that they do see each other as objects of their respective affection. Farrell and Rapace are each other’s equal, one half resisting anything for the obvious reasons, but the other half unable to resist. It’s through this that Oplev proves his mastery as a director.
Unfortunately, it’s the other side of the film that tends to drag. Victor wants to bring down Alphonse and his crew, and continuously sets up traps for him and his men to fall into, while they frantically try to figure out who the perpetrator is. It’s pulled off well, but it’s just never that interesting. And that may be because the relationship between Victor and Beatrice is. It has an undercurrent that’s missing from Victor’s revenge plot. It’s not terrible but it’s not terribly exciting either. Despite that, Oplev is able to hold interest throughout these scenes, without allowing the film to drag.
In the end it’s a better than an average thriller, with some action, but one that would surely have been an even more boring mess in someone else’s hands. Oplev imbues it with a noir hue that really works in the scenes with Beatrice and Victor, but the action sequences defy that noir sensibility and enter into action-trash territory. It’s a fine line Oplev walks, but he comes out on top, only if with enough momentum to hope he can top it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5