Tribeca 2012: ‘Deadfall’ exploits an ace cast and director to liven up a weak script

Deadfall
Directed by Stefan Ruzowitsky
Written by Zach Dean
USA, 2012

After winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008 with The Counterfeiters, director Stefan Ruziowitsky’s first American effort is the noir-ish thriller Deadfall. Although it seems that his script could have used at least one more revision, Ruzowitsky’s Oscar-winning pedigree attracted skilled actors and coaxed good work out of them, thus elevating the material.

To illustrate: there’s a scene in which brutal thief Addison (Eric Bana) escapes a band of police thanks to superlative snowmobile riding, then we cut to the very next scene where his con-woman sister Liza (Olivia Wilde) tells her boyfriend/mark Jay (Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy) that she doesn’t build snowmen very often because “there’s not a lot of snow in Alabama.” Zach Dean’s script is all over the place, scattering a number of good scenes around some glaring logic holes; the end of the aforementioned snowmobile scene is another howler, in which Addison sets a trap that he himself should not be able to get around in an amount of time that he shouldn’t have.

Problems such as those are easy to overcome, though, when the acting is this good. Bana makes a stellar villain, livening up every scene that he’s in; the rather bland actor from Hulk and Star Trek is nowhere to be seen. Hunnam has a sort of Channing Tatum quality as he plays a bulky boxer, but his face seems much more expressive than Tatum’s. Wilde devours a plum role with plenty of chances to emote, but she’s outshined by Kate Mara in a smaller part. Then, almost as if he were showing off, Ruzowitsky rounds out the cast with three national treasures in Kris Kristofferson, Sissy Spacek, and Treat Williams.

Before Deadfall is fifteen minutes old, there will be no question that the movie aims to get all of these characters around a Thanksgiving dinner table tense with the specter of impending violence. One of the good decisions that Dean’s script makes is that it takes its time to get to that table, allowing each character to be properly fleshed out and arrive at the showdown as a fully-rounded character with clear desires and motivations, with no obvious indicators as to who will survive that showdown and who won’t. “Criminals on the run spoil a Thanksgiving homecoming” may not sound like the most creative premise for a movie, but with as much talent as Deadfall assembles, there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Mark Young

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By Mark Young

Once upon a time, Mark Young was a film critic for a student newspaper at the University of Chicago, where his greatest accomplishment was being so late for a screening that he ran into a theater and collided with Roger Ebert. Today Mark lives and works in New York City, where he blogs reviews of films shown at his local Movie Klub. He loves to get feedback on his reviews, and the quickest way into his good graces is to reference the filmography of Jim Kelly. His first novel, THE QUESTION BLADE, is now available in the Apple iBookstore and the Kindle Store.

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