It’s Bloody Brilliant!: Dynamic Direction and Scintillating Cinematography in Deadfall

Bana and Wilde team up as sexy siblings on the lam

"Kin" Productions Kin Inc.Photo: Jan Thijs 2011

Bana.

A Western-style outlaw flick all dressed up like a contemporary thriller and set in a blizzard in the Upper Peninsula of northern Michigan, Deadfall is an above-average genre piece with a terrific cast that builds to a bloody Thanksgiving dinner shoot-out I found pretty close to unforgettable. Addison (Australian hunk Eric Bana) and his femme fatale sister Liza (the alluring Olivia Wilde), both trimmer and more camera-ready than usual, are a sibling heist team, sliding along a snowy country road in a car full of cash from a casino robbery gone terribly wrong. After a tremendous crash totals their car and leaves them stranded on foot in the snowy wilderness with a lethal storm beginning to swirl around them, they embark on a killing spree on their way to the Canadian border, beginning with the state trooper who arrives at the scene of the accident. Splitting up to make faster time, it is clear from their sexy, incestuous goodbye looks that there is more to their relationship than conventional sibling revelry.

At the same time, a troubled former Olympic boxer named Jay (Charlie Hunnam) is being released from prison in Detroit and heading home to spend the Thanksgiving holidays at the welcoming farmhouse of his loving apple-pie mother, June (Sissy Spacek), and resentful, unforgiving father, Chet (Kris Kristofferson), a former sheriff. Through a twist of fate, Jay and Liza meet in the storm and spend a hot night together in a motel that leaves Liza confused. Maybe this incestuous business with her brother Addison is not what it’s cracked up to be. Anyway, they somehow make it, battered and battling hypothermia, to Jay’s parents’ farm while Addison’s crime spree in the snow makes for some beautiful red-on-white cinematography. His encounter with a hillbilly abusing his family in a country cabin begins to test credibility, as the film intercuts awkwardly with flashbacks to similar childhood tortures in Alabama that provide clues to Addison and Liza’s incest. Things reach a fever pitch when everyone converges on the rural utopia of the farmhouse, replete with student lamps and wooden beams and Sissy Spacek baking pumpkin pies, where they are joined by family friend Sheriff Becker (Treat Williams), who is unaware that the killer is inside and has taken hostages, including Becker’s own deputy Hanna (Kate Mara), who also happens to be his daughter. Suspense grows as the manhunt for the casino killers intensifies and the sexual tensions throb. It all builds to a violent climax as unexpected as it is breathtaking.

The director is Austria’s Stefan Ruzowitzky, whose acclaimed film The Counterfeiters won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008. The way he balances the moody ambience of a snowbound country town with the emotional twists of the dangerous psychos who invade it is thrilling. The camera work is as beautiful as it is terrifying, with Quebec standing in for northern Michigan in the dead of winter. And the performances are resourceful, superbly etched and expertly nuanced. Eric Bana is at his riveting best—a glamorous, screwed-up wacko capable of blood-curdling horror and shocking tenderness. In the overproduced, over-hyped landslide of year-end releases, it may not get the attention it deserves, but if it’s a slick, hair-raising alternative to the usual bland holiday fare you crave, look no further than Deadfall.

 

DEADFALL

Running Time 94 minutes

Written by Zach Dean

Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky

Starring Eric Bana,
Olivia Wilde and
Charlie Hunnam

rreed@observer.com