Deadfall is a prime example of a film losing steam too quickly, making it an exceedingly weak and limp effort from The Counterfeiters director Stefan Ruzowitzky. What starts off as a promising, chilly crime yarn turns out to be another generic thriller, always hitting the beats we expect. The structure is in place to make for a decent B-movie, but Ruzowitzky deflates almost every scene with standard, by-the-book flat filmmaking.
How formulaic is it? This formulaic: Jay (Charlie Hunnam) has just been released from prison. Don’t worry, though, he’s really a (mildly) innocent man. He also isn’t your “average criminal,” because most criminals don’t happen to be former Olympian boxers. Who live by the border of Canada. Who get tangled up in some bad (read: nearly wacky) situations. It’s just a real shame for Jay that two casino-robbing siblings, Addison (Eric Bana) and Liz (Olivia Wilde), attempt to take advantage of him and his family on Thanksgiving. Their plan heats up, though, once Liza and Jay start to feel something for one another.
Obviously, nothing new going on there. What is missing to make it work is any sense of investment from Ruzowitzky. He takes joy in constructing some of the film’s action, but when it comes to Hunnam’s character, his dopey love story, and his conflict with his parents, Ruzowitzky appears more bored with it all than we are.
A part of that tremendous boredom comes from Hunnam’s character. Hunnam is simply the wrong lead for this movie. Besides being saddled with an archetype we’ve all seen before, Deadfall frequently switches from chronicling Bana and Wilde’s more far interesting dynamic to centering on the beef-head lead, who we are never really rooting for. Hunnam, normally a fine actor, shows no vulnerability in his role and consistently plays up a tough guy routine that’s nearly impossible to get invested in. His Jay starts off down in the dumps, he gets screwed over, and he initially gets played as a chump by Wilde’s character, and yet it’s still hard to feel something for him. While Hunnam’s performance is certainly at fault here, most of the blame falls on the weak and undercooked script.
The only actor capable of overcoming these trite situations is Eric Bana. One of the few reasons why Deadfall is not a total misfire is because of Bana’s performance as Addison. He’s both charming and dangerous, the kind of criminal with a conscious. Whenever Bana is on screen, he keeps the stakes of the film afloat and steadily rising. Bana’s performance is the sole source of fun and danger in Deadfall. The only action we see is when Addison is around, and it’s all clean-cut, propulsive, and belongs in a far better movie than this. The more minimal set pieces are the only sequences where Ruzowitzky takes full advantage of the film’s setting, and it’s where the movie comes alive.
Yet, that’s when Hunnman returns as a walking and talking cliche and the movie sinks again. The pieces are in place for a good, if routine, crime story, but they never come together. If you want a chilly, suspenseful thriller, watch Transsiberian, which co-stars the completely-wasted-here Kata Mara.
The Upside: A terrific opening; impressive action; Eric Bana makes for a great character actor.
The Downside: Steadily goes downhill; doesn’t bring anything new to the table, let alone attempt to; Charlie Hunnam’s presence as an already stilted character.
On The Side: Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson co-star as Hunnam’s parents. What a waste.