Get out your snowmobiles and shotguns, we're reviewing Deadfall!
Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde), brother and sister, are fresh off a robbery when they get stuck in a horrible snowstorm and need to lay low. They set out in different directions. Liza meets a fresh-out-of-prison ex-boxer, Jay (Charlie Hunnam), while Addison has a much harder time. Can they escape to Canada before Sheriff Becker (Treat Williams) and his daughter, Deputy Hanna (Kate Mara) catch them?
This is a surprisingly good little noir thriller. I can't believe I'd never heard of this before. It starts off rocky when they kill off the black guy within the first five minutes (the third partner in the siblings' heist gang, who refuses to wear a seatbelt and dies in a crash) which is SUPER surprising. I didn't think any movie was bold or dumb enough to do that still. We all agreed that was an outdated, useless, racist trope, right? And it doesn't help that the rest of the movie is as white as the snowstorm the two criminals get stuck in. Once (or if) you get past that, it's a good thriller.
I'd be loathe to call this a southern noir, since Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde's southern accents are pretty bad, but it does take place outside a small town in the backwoods with shanty cabins and guys that hunt for food. It does a great job of taking advantage of the harsh winter environment. You can feel how cold it is and how much of a necessity it is to find warmth and shelter.
This has a lot of badass stuff; lots of action and a ton of appropriately gory (for a crime thriller) kills. It even has a snowmobile chase! How many noirs can you say have snowmobile chases in them? Not many, I bet. And Eric Bana goes through some pretty badass stuff that makes you go WHOA. He just does not have a good day in this movie. I don't know why I like Eric Bana as an actor so much. He's usually pretty great in his roles but he's not been in a lot of great movies, but here he's really good. He's great at playing a bad guy that's trying to be good, and is slightly off his rocker to boot. I also like that he's trying to be protective of his sister, but in a super creepy way that actually demonstrates how the over-productive patriarchy is terrible for women. And Charlie Hunnam is pretty good too! The cast is all fairly decent.
What this movie does really well as an ensemble thriller is set up pieces so it can knock them down later. Jay needs to go up to visit his parents to get the keys to the cabin, but Liza is coming with him! But then Addison is on his way there as well! OH CRAP. You see all these pieces moving into place and you know there's going to be a big fight in the finale and it keeps you on pins and needles just waiting for the great big kill to happen. There is a lot of great suspense here. And luckily, it sticks the landing. The big finale that’s been set up is just as satisfying as you want it to be.
Even though it's a bit of a Southern Noir, it also feels very modern because they use cellphones in ways people would contemporarily use cellphones. The brother and sister call each other and Addison actually uses a GPS app on his phone to find a house. I don't know why this is such a big deal for me. I guess mostly because I’m thrilled to see southern noirs get a new resurgence, where the writers aren’t treating the genre as a way to get back to that frontier time when they didn't have to worry about computers and cellphones ruining their plot cliches. So here you get people using technology in ways that make sense! It's nice that there's a noir trying to step into the modern world instead of denying its existence.
Speaking of noir stepping into the modern world, there are a ton of female roles in this! Not to say that women didn’t used to exist, but now there’s a real push for equal representation, at least. So, hooray for a positive change in character roles – really complex, different ones where they're not always damsels in distress or ‘fridged.’ Liza uses her sexuality to get what she wants but is also having second thoughts about her morality and maybe getting a chance at a real life. Hanna is a pretty good cop that's on her way to become an FBI agent. Still, she doesn't get any respect from her Sheriff father or other male deputies, and despite that she still wants to take care of him. June is a badass mother that loves her son and doesn't panic in dangerous situations. And then there are little roles like that of Dorris, who works for the police, and the cool punk bartender. It's still not half the cast, but it's close. If it had a little more racial diversity I'd be happy. There's also a ton of sexism that makes me angry, but it's sort of there to acknowledge how tough some of the ladies have it and setting up reasons why you want these jerk guys to die off, so I'm letting it slide. No one gets horribly raped, which is a magnificent change of pace.
I don't think there's anything that really wows me about the cinematography or score like a lot of film noir does, but it's still done well. The pacing is good, and I like how the theme seems to be about family, forgiveness and letting go. There are some father issues, but it never gets annoying to the point of white guys whining about their daddy issues. And since this happens around Thanksgiving, this might oust Pieces of April as my requisite Thanksgiving movie. Well, maybe not. Pieces of April is really good.
Deadfall is a great noir. It's not as racially diverse as I'd like, but it's surprisingly modern for a frozen southern-fried noir. It's engaging and suspenseful, it's got nice character work, tons of action and it's an ensemble movie that does a nice job of setting up a climactic and satisfying finale.
THE GOOD: Great and brutal action, lots of women roles, feels modern, suspenseful, good characters, good themes, sets up pieces nicely, satisfying ending.
THE BAD: immediate token black guy death, barely any racial diversity, terrible accents.
THE VERDICT: $$$$ Deadfall is a great noir that you should definitely check out. It would have gotten a solid five if it didn't kill the black guy in the beginning. WHY YOU DO THAT, MOVIE??
MOVIES LIKE IT: Hanna, Winter's Bone, Mud, 2 Days in the Valley, Out of the Furnace
ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: When Jay gets out, he goes to see his trainer about some money. They have a bit of a fight, and the trainer falls and hits his head. Jay starts to call 911, but there's no way people are going to believe a recent ex-con hit him in self-defense, or that he just SLIPPED. So, he figures he has to run.