(This review was originally published on November 30, 2012 at Reel Film News)
If you were to combine “Reindeer Games” with “The Ref”, you might end up with something like “Deadfall”, a film that circles hungrily around the promise of a moral, as well as a twist, like a vulture waiting for something to die. There’s nothing particularly wrong with its plot, which begins in the escape phase of a heist near the wintry Canadian border, though it seems to be searching for a deeper-than-necessary revelation, keeping us entertained with snow mobile chases and knife fights while a three-pronged story of family dysfunction unfolds.
Many things are kept ambiguous in director Stefan Ruzowitsky’s action/thriller, and the biggest gray areas are in the family relationships it depicts, as if not wanting to fully commit to a back story. The individual characters are portrayed mostly with black-and white simplicity, if not underdeveloped, and their connections to one another are never explored thoroughly enough for us to look too far past some well-executed shoot-outs and beautiful scenery. As a drama, the film’s intertwining themes progress far too uniformly to be considered anything but contrived, though a great cast, including Kris Kristofferson and Sissy Spacek, stop it from getting too silly. At its best, it’s a decent crime story that’s a little edgier than your typical shoot-’em-up.
Though “Deadfall” is no great stride for Eric Bana or Olivia Wilde, they are interesting in their against-type roles as Addison and Liza, vaguely incestuous siblings who are on the run from authorities after a car crash interrupts an otherwise smooth getaway from a casino robbery. But Charlie Hunnam (“Sons of Anarchy”) gives the film its pulse; as the main protagonist, a recently paroled ex-boxer named Jay who crosses paths with Liza, he’s angry, confused and unpredictable – but mostly angry. The perpetually bulging vein in his neck looks like the fuse to a bomb.
While competent on almost every level, Zach Dean’s script has a very familiar framework to it. In fact, that’s how I’d describe almost every aspect of the film: competent but familiar. The story has several chances to tread some original territory, but consistently decides to play it safe; Bana’s pseudo-sociopathic Addison, for example, asks for forgiveness before he shoots somebody, hinting at an interesting trait that dissolves over the course of the film. Another instance is when he saves a little girl from her abusive stepfather. “Children must be protected,” he says, tweaking his Aussie accent for a heavy southern drawl. Later, we’ll find out why his statement is relevant, but you can probably figure it out.
Innocent children and criminals aren’t the only ones with daddy issues here; Kate Mara (“127 Hours”) plays a Sheriff’s deputy who gets more adversity from her chauvinistic father (Treat Williams) than the killer she’s pursuing. His treatment of her is so mean-spirited it’s almost hard to take seriously; it feels so forced that it’s distracting.
Otherwise, “Deadfall” gets through the checklist of requisite plot points with flying colors, and without trying to over-complicate the obvious. A romance buds between Liza and Jay, as she manipulates him to get to the border and rendezvous with Addison; because almost everything here happens as a result of dumb luck, it’s only logical they’ll all end up at the same place. Appropriate, I guess, that the film takes place on Thanksgiving.
The production at first suggests it’s going to be a film noir, with characters primarily motivated by a De Palma-esque mixture of sex, deception and whose decisions are impaired by the continuous ripple effect of childhood trauma. But this twice renamed hyper-drama develops more like a mainstream action affair; even its title, which was changed from “Blackbird”, and “Kin” before that, has a generic, Hollywood ring to it. Perhaps that makes it the most fitting choice.