By John Wildman on 12.5.2012
Sharing quite a bit of DNA with the home-invasion thriller The Desperate Hours—both the first version from 1955 starring Humphrey Bogart and the 1990 remake helmed by Michael Cimino and starring Mickey Rourke—Stefan Ruzowitsky’s Deadfall takes a tried-and-true premise (a bad man with a gun drops in uninvited for dinner; add some family discord and simmer to a boil), supplies some solid talent with decent name recognition, and delivers a satisfying thriller.
The film opens on a snowy winter day before Thanksgiving with brother-sister team Addison and Liza (Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde) counting their loot during their getaway from a casino heist. A car accident that kills their partner leads Addison to murder a highway patrolman and forces the two to split up temporarily in order to escape the law. At the same time, Jay (Charlie Hunnam), a former boxing champ fresh out of jail, is making a pit stop nearby after accidentally killing the guy responsible for collaring him. Now on the run, he’s heading home to see his estranged parents (Kris Kristofferson and Sissy Spacek).
Meanwhile (yes, there is a “meanwhile”), a young deputy (Kate Mara) is awaiting her FBI Academy test results when news of the heist, car wreck, and murdered patrolman reaches her and her standard-issue misogynistic police chief (Treat Williams), who’s also her dad. Naturally, Liza catches a ride with Jay, love on the run ensues, and soon the smitten guy is taking his new hot mystery gal to meet the folks. At about the same time, her bro is getting himself into situations where he regretfully needs to kill people—and is heading to the same neighborhood. Oh, and lest Spacek and Kristofferson have some empty chairs at the table, the father-daughter law enforcement team may be dropping by as well.
The performances across the board are uniformly good and effective, but the film never takes that next step to generating true sparks and fingernail-biting tension. Bana and Wilde, while doing their professional best, aren’t able to deliver the wild-card performances necessary to send the action through the roof. Wilde fights an innate intelligence and polish that is completely at odds with her character, a simple country girl with a learned talent for the grift. And Bana, an actor so very good at conveying contained rage or seething emotions under layers of duress, is equally ill-suited to pull off a charismatic charmer with the lightning-quick ability to deliver a killing stroke. He’s just not your go-to for the life-of-the party guy, dangerous or not.
Ruzowitsky could have pushed himself away from the Thanksgiving table without having the extra helping of the Mara/Williams subplot and delved more deeply into the other family dynamics. But ultimately, his cast of players get the movie, and us, over the hump. While Deadfall probably isn’t a film that would likely inspire running to be first in line at the multiplex, it would easily be a very satisfying consolation prize, as well as a very solid player once it hits cable.