Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde play brother and sister, Addison and Liza, in a relationship which becomes only clear after the opening scene on a Michigan road following some kind of con job. (I’m still unclear what it entailed except that Wilde’s character wears a revealing mini-dress, and she has a lot of cash by her side in the car’s backseat). But no matter—they’re on a very snowy road when their car hits a deer and careens off the road, killing the driver (they survive with cuts and bruises). A cop comes by to see what happened, and is immediately shot to death by Addison. The siblings are on the run now, and they split up and agree to meet north in Canada.
In another story line, an ex-boxer, Jay (Charlie Hunnam), walks out of jail a free man and immediately goes back to his old manager to get the money owed him for throwing a fight, but he gets into an altercation with the man. Thinking he’s killed him, Jay, too, goes on the lam. But will he go back to his parents (Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson) for Thanksgiving the next day? First, he picks up a freezing girl hitchhiking on the road—poor little Wilde—and now we have another trope, the average Joe with the femme fatale. Or so we might think….
A lot of ingredients are in Deadfall to either subvert expectations or just follow them along. Sadly, director Stefan Ruzowitzky (responsible for the very good and compelling Holocaust drama The Counterfeiters from a few years back) and first-time writer Zach Dean don’t add a whole lot to the pot. If anything, they make the supporting characters total cardboard cut-outs.
For example, the police force tracks down, naturally, the murder of the officer. This leads them to Addison’s trail (a few steps behind, of course). The sole woman on the force, Hanna (Kate Mara) is the daughter of the sheriff (Treat Williams), and is very steadfast and gung ho at her job (but oh, will she take that possible job at the FBI?). But everyone in the department, even her father, are completely misogynistic jerk-offs without any positive qualities. By the time the film tries to redeem her father, it’s just too late, both for the character and Williams’ awfully bland gruff-and-tough performance. Aren’t we done with all men hating on the one-woman-on-the-force already in movies, like 20 years done?
For a scene or two, Hunnam and Wilde seem to have good chemistry and have a sweet little conversation when Jay comes up with a name for Liza when they first meet. (She asks him to give her a made-up name because she doesn’t want to give away her real one.) But their relationship becomes too serious too quickly, going from zero to total love within less than a day (sure, there’s a lusty bedroom scene, shot in clichéd dark-but-fleshy tones, as if we were watching late-night Cinemax, but still). It’s mostly a set-up to make the climax a little more complicated, when all of the characters—and I do mean all of them—come together for Thanksgiving dinner. And while Wilde is appealing in her role, and her character reveals some depth, it suffers more from Hunnam having the dramatic weight of a brick. Don’t we already have Channing Tatum for bland performances like this now?
Maybe the only really smart thing the filmmakers did for this mediocre neo-noir was casting Eric Bana as Addison. It’s strange that a character so villainous, so ready to kill without much thought (unless it’s kids, of course) is so sympathetic. Some of it is in the writing, yet a lot of it I credit to Bana, especially in the last act when he becomes rather magnetic. Bana commands your attention every step of the way. He shows that for all of Addison’s bad deeds, he has a sense of fairness. Why just kill Jay’s kindly parents who will, with protest, do what he says, when he could have them cook Thanksgiving dinner instead? In short, if the movie doesn’t thrill, at least Bana does, and I’d love to see him play more roles like this.