Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Deadfall is a snow globe thriller in the tradition of films like Fargo and A Simple Plan – because all three films involve botched money-grabbing plots, a substantial body count, and snowy climes, you see. Starring Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, Charlie Hunnam, Sissy Spacek, and Kris Kristofferson, the film written by newcomer Zach Dean has grand ambitions indeed, but does Deadfall warm to the challenges of its plot, or succumb to frostbite?
Deadfall opens with siblings Addison (Bana) and Liza (Wilde) driving away from a casino heist in the apparent snowy tundra that is remote Northern Michigan in November. Bana plays Addison with a creepy, sociopathic Jimmy Stewart earnestness – frankly, it doesn’t work. He would have been better served not wearing the crazy so clearly on his sleeve. Wilde is another story, though – not simply a pretty face, this girl can act, and she’s quickly becoming one of the most exciting actresses working today. She commands the screen with a presence not quite malevolent, but certainly manipulative – and yet, still vulnerable. It’s great work.
Soon after their getaway car hits a patch of black ice and skids out of control in a horrific wreck, a State Trooper happens upon the scene, and Addison kills him, fearing getting caught with the lifted casino cash. Then, Addison decides that he and Liza need to split up in order to survive, which sets in motion the events of the rest of the film.
Jay (Hunnam), a former Olympic boxer, gets out of prison (something about taking a fall in a professional match) on this same day, and places a call to his parents (Spacek and Kristofferson), telling them that he’ll be home for Thanksgiving dinner the next day. A completely happy family reunion this will not be, however, as Jay and his father seem to have some deep-seeded beef with each other. Before heading home, Jay pays a visit to his old gym and former trainer, and when they get in an argument over money Jay thinks he’s owed, a fight breaks out, and Jay knocks the dude out – a definite violation of the terms of his parole.
Now on the run, Jay comes across Liza, out on the road, practically frozen stiff. He picks her up and agrees to take her to the next gas station. When the weather conditions force a road closure, Jay and Liza are forced to hunker down in a motel and spend the night together where they…fall in love? I guess? This is where Deadfall really starts going off the rails.
Yes, Jay and Liza are two beautiful people who, as beautiful people are wont to do, have some pretty hot sex with each other – and they kind of, sort of bond over parental issues (hers being much, much heavier than his) – but in no way is their relationship really “sold,” and certainly not to the extent that Jay and Liza can believably be described as “being in love” – and yet Ruzowitzky and Dean would have us believe this. No thanks.
Meanwhile, Addison kills some more people on the way to reuniting with Liza (including a strange, possibly insane mountain man with a snow mobile and an abusive drunkard holed up with his wife and step kids in a remote cabin). And blah blah blah…I’m getting bored just writing this.
Here’s what you need to know: as these kinds of things tend to do, all of the separate storylines being juggled – Jay and Liza, Addison’s killing spree, Jay’s parents, and a rather unnecessary dysfunctional father-daughter relationship between Police Chief Becker (Treat Williams) and deputy daughter Hanna (Kate Mara) – eventually collide in one, climactic shoot-out, here during Thanksgiving dinner at Jay’s parent’s house. And it’s all kind of dull, to be perfectly frank. Not even the creepy, definitely incestuous relationship between Addison and Liza can liven up the affairs here.
Wilde is spectacular as Liza, and most of the action sequences are well shot and edited, but the story – to which everything else must be of service – is almost unbearably uninvolving. Who are these people? Why should we be interested in them? Why should we care? Simply being the handful of characters invented to populate a movie isn’t enough of a reason.
Perhaps the comparison to Fargo and A Simple Plan isn’t a fair one, but it can’t be entirely dismissed. The difference between those two films and this one is a distance best measured in snowy miles, though. Deadfall isn’t handled with much subtlety, narrative agility, or grace – which is a shame because the ingredients here, taken by themselves, are delicious ones; it’s just the recipe that’s off.