Deadfall (United States, 2012)

November 27, 2012
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Deadfall Poster

The most disappointing aspect of Deadfall is its conventionality. For a thriller, it's light on surprises. After a thunderbolt of an opening sequence, the storyline unfolds in a predictable manner and the ending, despite providing a sense of closure, leaves open numerous annoying plot threads. No, movies don't have to finish with everything neatly resolved, but there's a sense of laziness in how Deadfall concludes, as if screenwriter Zach Dean didn't want to bother with anything beyond answering The Big Question. Details are important to most viewers.

The cast is surprisingly high profile for a movie that is being tossed into a few art house theaters without a real expectation of making much money. (It's also available via VOD.) The leads are Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde and the supporting cast includes Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson. They're not Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie but they're not unknowns trying to make names for themselves, either.

The story concerns Addison (Bana) and Liza (Wilde), a brother-and-sister crime team who have just committed a successful casino robbery before their car loses control on a snowy road and crashes. When a state trooper comes upon the wreck, Addison shoots him in cold blood. He decides that he and Liza must split up as they make their way through the cold wilderness with the eventual goal of reconnecting near the Canadian border and making the crossing. Liza waylays a truck driven by Jay (Charlie Hunnam), a recently paroled man who is on the run, trying to avoid returning to jail. Jay is headed home to have Thanksgiving dinner with his mother, June (Spacek), and father, Chet (Kristofferson), whose house is close to the border. Meanwhile, Addison stays one step ahead of a manhunt and takes refuge in a small hunting cabin after killing the wife-beater who lives there and helping the surviving inhabitants.

The underdeveloped, incestuous relationship between Addison and Liza is considerably more interesting than the one the movie attempts to develop between Liza and Jay. The love affair that blooms between those two is entirely too convenient and not especially believable. There's not a lot of chemistry here and Wilde appears uncertain how to play Liza. Her dependency on her brother is evident but the ease with which it is broken strains credulity. Addison is a more intriguing character - a cold blooded killer and protector of abused women and children. Late in the film, when he takes June hostage, he's the perfect gentleman. Sadly, by the final act, he is transformed into a generic lunatic bad guy. Maybe it's all that wine he drinks at Thanksgiving dinner.

The best thing about Deadfall is the setting: the snowy wilds of Michigan. That's real snow on the ground and falling from the sky, not the product of special effects. It lends a powerful sense of atmosphere to the production. It feels cold. Shane Hurlbut's photography captures the Norman Rockwell exteriors that become settings for violence and murder. The snow falls so thickly and heavily that the cops use snow mobiles to travel from place-to-place.

Deadfall suffers most obviously from a sense of not being adequately developed. The film's basic framework is solid and contains some intriguing elements, but director Stefan Ruzowitzky (whose The Counterfeiters won the Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2008) proves unable to develop these in a manner that overcomes the limitations of the genre. It would have been interesting to see what a great filmmaker like Martin Scorsese could achieve with similar material. 95 minutes is too short - the themes, situations, and characters demand more time and space to breathe. They're ingredients in a recipe that are inadequately combined. The final conflict needs to be more powerful, more tense, and suffused with a sense of poignancy. The upshot is a movie that functions effectively as an adequate 90-minute diversion but is not worth seeking out. Par for the course for the average VOD release.

Deadfall (United States, 2012)

Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky
Cast: Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, Charlie Hunnam, Sissy Spacek, Kris Kristofferson, Kate Mara, Treat Williams
Screenplay: Zach Dean
Cinematography: Shane Hurlbut
Music: Marco Beltrami
U.S. Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Run Time: 1:35
U.S. Release Date: 2012-12-07
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1