From the attention grabbing opening the pace pulls back turning into a film I didn't totally expect and one that plays out in rather familiar territory but still with some turns that will keep you interested and engaged right to the final second.
Liza escapes the snowstorm first after being picked up by Jay, an ex-boxer just out of prison and heading home for Thanksgiving, a home that happens to be on the border. He also happens to be trying to steer clear of the police, perfect for Liza to tag along with until they get to the home where she can meet Addison. However she begins to bond with Jay and before she knows it she's experiencing the beginnings of another powerful relationship in her life, one that makes her question her loyalty to Addison.
I've heard and read a few comments about Deadfall, many of which are writing it off and not being too complimentary and I don't wholly agree with that. I do think there are some flaws in the film and some wasted opportunities but there are some moments of uniqueness and some threads that engage your interest and your imagination.
When the film opens it opens hard and you do think you're in for a film with quite a bit more action than the one we actually get. There are some moments of action, mainly bookending the film, and throughout there are the odd scenes of violence to give the rest of the film an edge. That edge mainly comes through the characters and their relationships and there is enough there to give the thriller something extra. Where I do think it slips is at the end where it seems to run out of steam.
The opening isn't just explosive in the events but also in introducing the characters. From the outset we feel there's something off in the relationship between the brother and sister, the brother strong and leading while the sister is naïve and somewhat lacking knowledge of the world. The relationship between the two feels a little off, peppered with a little darker history and uncertainty. It makes for a good and unsettling start. There's something about the character that Eric Bana plays that makes you feel straight away that he's dangerous, and not just in the usual reckless killer way.
This is borne out in a few scenes later when his character reveals just how cold and ruthless he is, contrasting against the caring relationship he so obviously has with his sister. After they split we see that without his influence the sister, Liza played by Olivia Wilde, begins to accept a more normal life and attitude, swayed by the presence of someone just as caring but a lot more stable and normal.
It's the journey of the brother Addison that is the more interesting of the two, revealing a much more complex character than a standard thriller would have developed. When he comes across the cabin his character moves from the straight up killer you thought he was to a much more complex person and strangely you can even begin to understand him a little. From here his character is opened up and this dichotomy of his character keeps running through to the very end of the film. His is an interesting thread and one that I wish was made more of, especially when he and the sister meet up again as I think this would have made the ending more powerful than it was.
There is another thread of the story that veers away from standard territory and delivers some very interesting and complex characters. When we arrive at the Sheriff's department we meet Hanna, played by Kate Mara who, once again, we think is treading a standard path but then the Sheriff arrives, the Sheriff who also happens to be her father. The relationship between the two and the dynamic with the other Sheriffs catches your attention in a number of powerful moments, particularly when the three Deputies arrive at the cabin and the ensuing snowmobile chase. There are some fascinating ideas presented here which really do take the story away from the standard thriller but they are under-explored and utilised in the film, and come the crucial closing act they are pushed to the side. It does rear its head in a final fleeting moment which is rather interesting, but it is in the passing.
It's strange because you feel like there's a film in this story alone and it's one that captures you and you want to see more from. Yet it's incidental to the main plot and its two or three relationships below the main relationship in the story. Although it isn't the main focus the very fact it's there bolsters the rest of the film and provides one of those off the worn path aspects that draw you closer to it.
The film takes its time to build up the characters in the second act and the paragraphs above are examples of just that. As Addison is in the cabin we witness some powerful scenes that really do add depth to his character, and it goes without saying that Eric Bana delivers them well. Then all the threads involving the Sheriff's department bring a multitude of interesting characters and relationships. These are all built well and delivered with strong pacing and together they step the film up and away from the average thriller.
I think it's the ending that let the film down somewhat, and while I do feel like I would have wanted more from the brother-sister relationship and the Sheriff's department story, it is the ending which dipped the film most for me. The tension seemed to be replaced with a growing certainty of how it would all play out and, for the most part, it does.
Yet it is still a solid ending, probably more for the very final shots of the characters which leave you with plenty of uncertainty and desire for more but also with an intriguing hint at where they would be going next. My favourite of these is the moment with Hanna in the foreground and the ambulance behind, I shall leave the rest of that for you to discover and enjoy. Nothing is tied up and addressed neatly, we're just shown the beginning of what could be some rather messy journeys with unknown outcomes, just like real life.
The film itself is shot well and really does make you feel the cold. The moments of action are dynamic and exciting and yet the film copes well with the dramatic changes in pace and keeps the tension and drama through the quiet periods. That's all testament to the script as much as anything and it is a good script.
One thing that did annoy me was the fake snow. There are many scenes where they there is supposed to be a terrible blizzard yet the filming occurred without a snowflake falling, it's clear these have been added in digitally. You'll see a scene where not a snowflake falls on the characters and yet there are plenty falling across the screen. This really stood out for me and I had to fight not to keep noticing it. Thankfully these scenes aren't around for that long a time and the rest of the film takes your mind away from them.
Deadfall is a thriller that doesn't play with stereotypes in the characters but does seem to follow some standard paths in many of the threads. We see this particularly in the closing sequences which didn't have the impact that the rest of the film had built it up to have.
I found this strange because there are a good number of contrasting threads in the film such as the way the relationship between Jay and Liza develops, the character of Addison, or the most interesting part of the film, how Hanna is treated by the other Deputies and especially by her father, the Sheriff. These are powerful aspects that do lift the film up from being a standard thriller and yet some of them just aren't explored enough.
The performances are good and emotionally believable, and I enjoyed both Bana and Wilde the most from the film, although Mara definitely had much more to offer if her character had been given more in the film.
Some say that this is a standard thriller but I don't agree, it offers more than that even if the standard moments bring it back down a little. It's enjoyable and provides something different to the audience, and it will draw you to the characters and engage you much more than other thrillers do.