‘Deadfall’ falls dead with its lifeless characterizations and DOA plot

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Deadfall

Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky

United States, 2012

Fargo has so embedded itself in the American film-going consciousness as a cold thriller, that anything with a suspense plot and snow now seems to warrant immediate comparisons, whether deserved or not. While many things can be leveled at Stefan Ruzowitzky’s thriller, including suspense and snow, Fargo­-like should not be one of them.

Addison (Eric Bana, closer to his Chopper menace than other recent roles) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) are brother and sister criminals on the run to the Canadian border in a small-town blizzard. After a car accident forces them to part ways Liza comes across Jay (Charlie Hunnam), a former Olympic boxer and ex-con, also on the run for his own reasons. All parties converge on Jay’s parents’ house (played by Kris Kristofferson and Sissy Spacek) for a tense Thanksgiving dinner.

The beginning of Deadfall is tense enough. The semi-incestuous relationship between Addison and Liza promises rough developments when Jay comes into the picture. Kate Mara’s Hanna, a local cop who can’t live up to her misogynist father’s expectations, avoids the overtly feminine stereotype and also the tough-as-nails anti-stereotype.

deadfall

In the end, though, Deadfall falls dead with its lifeless characterizations and DOA plot. Addison is supposed to be both savior and angel of death. A scene where he saves a family from an abusive husband and father is double-edged sword: charitable and selfish (he needs shelter). But that image falters and never fully develops. There’s never a real sense of who Addison is. For us, he’s just a criminal on the run who hacks people in front of him, seems to have some evil plan, and then is confoundedly genial at times when it serves the humor of the plot (see much of the initial interaction between he and Sissy Spacek’s June).

The same is true for Liza and Jay. Liza has some vitality. She’s got a history with her brother that we learn and she ultimately proves to have a backbone, but the dramatic change in her character is too easy, and it comes at the hands of Jay – who’s supremely disinteresting. The only interesting thing about Jay, Ruzowitzky and writer Zach Dean seem to think, is his body and his silver Olympic medal, both of which are photographed and/or mentioned in copious detail.

Part of the problem here stems from overextension. Between Addison, Liza and Jay, June and Chet (Kristofferson), and Hanna, there’s not enough room for development. Plenty of ensemble pieces overcome this shortcoming, of course, which leads to Deadfall’s second problem – it’s all pretty banal, seen-it-before stuff. The character who comes closest to breaking the mold is Hanna, but she’s constantly shuttled to the background for chase scenes and Addison one-liners. Her struggle with her father and the potential to join the FBI has promise but it drops into the whitewash of the rest of the plot.

  • Neal Dhand

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