Sunday, August 24, 2014

Deadfall (2012)

Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky                          Writer: Zach Dean
Film Score: Marco Beltrami                           Cinematography: Shane Hurlbut
Starring: Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, Charlie Hunnam and Kate Mara

Deadfall is an extremely effective thriller, primarily because it subverts audience expectations by giving the audience a moral killer . . . sort of. While there can be no doubt that the character played by Eric Bana is a cold blooded killer, there are hints to his humanity that, by the end of the picture, sort of explain why. When he kills the state trooper in the beginning of the film he actually apologizes to him beforehand. And his behavior in the hunting cabin with the family is quite touching. Even so, he is relentless on his path to freedom and will not allow anyone or any thing to stand in his way. It’s a clever story by Zach Dean, thus far his only film, taking a group of disparate people and gradually pulling them all in to one location for the finale. The motivations are, for the most part, believable, and the characterizations are definitely fascinating to watch. Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky is best know to me for an equally fascinating study of people in one of his German films, The Inheritors, as well as the thriller starring Franka Potente called Anatomy. He does a terrific job here in his only American film so far. Some terrific effects, such as the car rolling in the beginning and the whiteout of the storm, are confident and bode well for the future.

The film begins in a car with Eric Bana in the passenger seat and his sister, Olivia Wilde, in the rear seat of a car that is heading north toward Canada in a getaway from a casino robbery. When the driver hits a deer the car overturns in the snow and kills the driver. Bana and Wilde are okay, but a state trooper stops to investigate and Bana is forced to shoot him so the two siblings can split up to make their escape. Meanwhile Charlie Hunnam is released from prison and calls his parents, Kris Kristofferson and Sissy Spacek, to see if he can stay in the family cabin for a while, and Spaceck invites him over for Thanksgiving dinner the next night. But before he goes, he stops at his former trainer’s gym and argues that he should be given the money he made for throwing a fight. An argument ensues and when Hunnam thinks he’s killed the trainer he takes off to his parents’ house. Along the way a storm hits and when he sees Wilde on the side of the road he picks her up. Stranded at a hotel with a bar, the two spend the night with each other, and even though she has feelings for him she tries to leave the next morning so as not to entangle him in her criminal life. At the same time Bana is leaving a swath of death in his wake as he makes his way toward Kristofferson and Spacek’s house, with Hunnam and Wilde on course for the same place.

The underlying thematic element is that of family and the father. The relationship between Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde is odd at first, and only comes into some focus at the hotel when Wilde tells Hunnam the story of her father’s death, how cruel he was to them, and how glad she was that he died. Charlie Hunnam has father issues as well, but of a different sort. Kris Krisofferson had trained him as a boxer but was never satisfied with his son’s success, making Hunnam bitter about their relationship. Hunnam’s jail term only served to deepen the divide. The third such relationship is between local sheriff Treat Williams, who is tracking Bana, and his daughter, Kate Mara. She is one of the officers on his force, and though he alternately protects and ridicules her she is still considering turning down an offer to join the F.B.I. because she can only see his behavior in terms of his reaction to his wife--her mother--leaving them. When Bana comes across a hunting cabin in the woods on his way north, he sees a drunk man running his abused wife and baby out into the snow. It’s clear that this has a meaningful connection to Bana’s past and he doesn’t hesitate to break into the cabin and shoot the abusive man, bringing the wife and children back into the cabin to protect them, just as he did for his sister.

While some might consider the plot to be convoluted, if not outright unbelievable, the incredible star power of the film makes it completely satisfying. Eric Bana is a great choice because of his lack of menace. Granted, he was the evil Romulan in the remake of Star Trek, but that was created primarily through makeup. He has the look of someone like Hart Bochner, disarming but deadly. Kris Kristofferson’s role is small, but his presence adds a lot of gravitas to the picture, while Sissy Spacek has a somewhat larger role and is very good. Charlie Hunnam is new to me, a British actor who doesn’t seem to possess any particularly unique gifts as an actor, but is able to convey his character’s tortured past and ability to love in a convincing way. Olivia Wilde is what brought me to the picture in the first place. Her role in House was quite good and, while her mannered performance here leaves something to be desired, she remained an enigma to me through to the end, which is a considerable achievement. Deadfall is probably most similar to something by the Coen Brothers. And while it lacks their distinctive sense of humor, it is a relentless piece of entertainment that has a very unexpected and satisfying conclusion.

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