Film Review: Deadfall

A blizzard traps robbers heading for the Canadian border. Cast outdoes plot in this moody <i>noir </i>piece.

Violent outbursts aside, restraint is the dominant tone in Deadfall, a genre exercise about robbers on the run. Seasoned actors and wintry settings are the best aspects of a film that will make a bigger splash in home markets than theatres. (Deadfall has been available on VOD since Nov. 1, 2012.)

Damaged siblings Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) are heading for the Canadian border with the proceeds from a casino heist when their car skids off a snowy road. Addison shoots a state policeman investigating the accident. The two split up, Liza to try hitching and Addison heading into the woods.

Out on parole, former boxing champ Jay Mills (Charlie Hunnam) flees town after knocking out and possibly killing a crooked promoter. Driving home, Jay finds Liza standing in the road suffering from hypothermia. A blizzard forces them to seek shelter in a motel.
Jay falls hard for Liza, who doesn't tell him about Addison. Jay has secrets of his own. He's been estranged from his mother June (Sissy Spacek) and father Chet (Kris Kristofferson), a retired sheriff.

Current sheriff Marshall Becker (Treat Williams) briefs his squad about the fugitives. He forbids his daughter Hanna (Kate Mara) from participating in the manhunt, but she becomes involved anyway while investigating a domestic dispute.

As bodies continue to fall, Addison, Liza and Jay all make their way to the Mills farm. Addison takes the Mills family and Hanna hostage, leading to a deadly climax that will surprise anyone who's never seen a thriller before.

Zach Dean's screenplay has all the plot twists and doomed characters of classic noir, but fails to push the story to its full potential. With incest, patricide and several forms of sexual abuse on display, you would expect some fireworks to erupt. But Deadfall has a soft center that lets everyone off the hook, including viewers.

Director Stefan Ruzowitzky, whose The Counterfeiters won the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar in 2008, opts for a glum, morbid tone, playing down the story's chase elements to concentrate on long conversations in claustrophobic settings. Only one of these, Addison lecturing a young girl whose father he just killed, builds any real suspense.

A superior cast helps divert attention away from the disappointing plot. Spacek and Kristofferson deliver solid support, while Hunnam is an entirely believable fall guy. Mara is capable in a poorly written part, and after a shaky start Wilde grows into her role as a conflicted femme fatale.

Eric Bana, on the other hand, delivers a parody of a villain, throwing the film off-kilter at key points. Employing a wandering accent, the actor overplays his scenes, making Addison pretentious instead of frightening. That's the problem in general with Deadfall, a film too full of itself to be bothered with entertaining its customers.