Deadfall

This is like something from an old movie
Released:
2012

Director: Stefan Ruzowitsky

Starring: Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, Charlie Hunnan, Kris Kristofferson, Sissy Spacek

The Setup:

Criminal brother and sister involve various others as they flee the law.

Discussion:

When I saw the trailer for this I was like "I am THERE for that one!" because of its promised twists and turns and criminals on the run and innocent people drawn in and hints of invest and everything like that. And the reality is I narrowly escaped seeing Any Day Now, the gay learning disabled adoption handwringer with Alan Cumming, as we actually had free passes and Cumming himself was going to be there, but thankfully my friend Howard chose at the last minute to skip it, in gratitude for which I had to promise that he could choose the next four movies.

Anyway, so this is a neo-noir, neo-western crime tale that takes place in Michigan but was actually shot in Quebec. It is the latest in the series of foreign directors wanting to make big statements about violence in America. And it's ultimately a near miss. We open with Eric Bana as Addison and Olivia Wilde as his sister Liza, traveling with a ton of cash they have just stolen from a casino, with the only black guy in the movie, who does indeed die first. They hit a deer and skid off the road, driver killed, and Addison and Liza grab the cash and split up, after Addison kills a cop who stops to investigate. Before they separate, we have a few incestuous hints as he sneaks a peek at her in her skimpy showgirl outfit and she says "It's okay to look," and before parting he says "You're my little girl," and she agrees by repeating it. You might wonder if it was strictly necessary to kill the cop, as it seems to escalate their troubles before they even begin, but it does set the story in motion. We then have our title, in a type face that let's us know that this is supposed to be considered a Western.

Meanwhile, handsome Charlie Hunnan, who seems like he could have easily been Channing Tatum if the cards had fallen differently, is Jay, who is released from prison. He calls his grumpy dad, played by Kris Kristofferson, and his adoring mom, played by Sissy Spacek. He makes arrangements to arrive there the next day, which by the way is Thanksgiving. He goes to see his boxing manager who made him throw the fight which resulted in him landing in prison, but finds him not receptive to Jay's demands for money. They have a scuffle, during which Jay seem to accidentally kill the manager, resulting in him fleeing the scene. He heads upstate, and guess who he picks up? That's right, Liza.

Meanwhile we have a charming female cop (wait, MORE characters?) who is accepted to FBI training but isn't sure she can leave her dad, who is the sergeant, played by Treat Williams, still lookin' fine. He, however, is a potent blend of overprotective and sexist and makes one strikingly offensive comment before taking the entire force out on a manhunt and leaving her behind to work the phones. How she got this far in the police force with him being such a douche is one of those screenplay secrets. We have had an earlier scene establishing that she knows Kristofferson and Spacek.

SPOILERS > > >
Meanwhile, Addison is wending his violent way upstate as well. He meets a guy with a snowmobile, has a struggle in which he ends up losing a finger, and kills the guy. The snowmobile breaks down not long after, and none of it ends up adding anything to the movie, so in retrospect, all of it should have been cut. He comes upon a cottage where a redneck man is in he process of throwing his wife and infant out into the driving snow, because as surely you realize, all redneck hunters are drunken, abusive bastards. Addison kills the guy, brings the women and infant in, along with their ten year old daughter, and spends the night. In the morning, the older girl acts out the screenwriter's conceit of having minor characters spill lines of thematic importance when she says "I think you should stay away from your sister."

But what of that sister? Well, she has been chatting with Jay, and getting to know and like him, although she does call and give Addison the address of his parent's house before liking him too much. They are snowed in at a truck stop for the night, where the bartender does that minor character making thematic statement thing when she says "You can choose the guy, but you can't choose the family." They have sex and spend the night, but in the morning Liza, still scheming to meet up with Addison, tries to hitch with other truckers. Jay comes out and makes her reveal who she really is, her real name, her real past, and they start falling in love for real, although we know that she's going to have some problems with her overprotective brother later.
< < < SPOILERS END

It's not revealing much to say that they all end up at mom and pop's for the most violent Thanksgiving dinner ever, where everything unfolds somewhat predictably and it eventually ends. When it's over, you have a moment where you turn to your friend and say "It wasn't BAD, but..." and then it's hard to put your finger on what exactly is wrong with it. It just fails to congeal in the way you know it should. One challenge is that there are a great many characters, and they each have arcs, but none of them are given enough time to have the emotional heft they need. We spend time on needless distractions, like Addison losing his finger and gaining a coat, that could have been eliminated entirely. Similarly, the story of the abusive husband in the hunting cottage, I get that it parallels another story thread, but does it add enough value when you could have used that time to strengthen the central relationships? The result is that you can tell it's supposed to have a noirish inevitability, that all of these characters and story directions are on a collision course, but they collide with a thud. I was wondering if this originated as a novel, and that things like the lost finger seemed important there, but it didn't: it's an original screenplay. Where elements just don't entirely gel.

There are also things that just seem scattershot, like these little reality-TV zooms when Liza is calling her brother in the bathroom, and... what purpose do they serve? What do they add? They end up being the sign of a director who has loose control, and is throwing out technique that might work in the moment, but without a sense of their place in the overall narrative.

The cast is quite good, so good you wish the movie had gotten it right. My friend didn't buy Bana as a psychopath, but I thought he was good, his loopy friendliness used to sinister effect. I've liked Olivia Wilde since she was a bold presence in Tron Legacy, and have been eager to see her get a juicier character, which she has here. She does fine, but won't blow anyone away. Kate Mara is also quite charming as the young police officer, and Charlie Hunnan also hits the right mix of simple and charming. The old pros hit it like old pros. Too bad it all just doesn't quite click.

Should you watch it?

It won't kill you, but there are much better things.

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