By Chaz Lipp
I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve never heard of Deadfall, new on Blu-ray from Magnolia Home Entertainment. Directed by Stefan Ruzowitsky (who won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 2008 for The Counterfeiters) and written by apparent first-timer Zach Dean, the film barely made it into theaters in December 2012 following its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival the previous April. It’s an ambitious film that never quite comes together, cramming a lot of plot into just over 90 minutes, but one that has a fair amount to offer.
Consider the cast. Olivia Wilde, Kris Kristofferson, Sissy Spacek, Treat Williams, Kate Mara (of the Netflix Original Series House of Cards), and Charlie Hunnam (Jax on Sons of Anarchy). Leading this bunch of very good actors is Eric Bana, perhaps best known as Bruce Banner in Ang Lee’s Hulk, who delivers a magnetic performance as the psychotic Addison. I’ve name-checked these cast members because, even though some of them have limited screen time, it’s an interesting ensemble that’s sure to hook a lot of potential viewers.
Deadfall sets up a triptych of character combinations that all deal, to varying degrees, with strained (or downright negative) parental relationships. Addison (Bana) and Liza (Wilde) are a brother/sister act who have just knocked over a casino as the story begins. The robbery itself is largely irrelevant to the story. It simply serves as a means to make both siblings fugitives. After establishing that the odd pair is unusually close with each other, they go their separate ways to find to avoid arrest following a horrific car crash in a blinding snowstorm.
Seemingly unrelated, former boxer Jay (Hunnam) is trying to reconnect with his parents (Kristofferson and Spacek) after serving time for participating in a fixed fight. The once-promising fighter used to be managed by his father, who turned his back on him after the prison sentence. I’m not sure professional athletes usually serve hard time in real life for cheating, but that’s what happened to Jay. He also becomes something of a fugitive after severely assaulting his former promoter and fleeing the scene in panic after calling 911.
Jay meets Liza, helping the shivering woman out of the blistering cold. While holed up at a truck stop, a hot and heavy romance blossoms. The speed with which this lust turns to so-called true love is a misstep in Dean’s screenplay, but it does send the new couple on a path that will eventually reunite Jay with his parents and Liza with her brother. Addison rescued Liza from their father’s abuse, but it left both of them confused about the nature of their relationship together.
While these storylines should be more than enough to sustain the film, Dean adds another element. Sheriff Becker (Williams) is alerted to the casino robbery and sends his best men to investigate. One of his best “men” is actually a woman, and his daughter, Deputy Hannah (Mara). She’s constantly the target of sexist attitudes and those who regard her presence solely as a result of nepotism. Though she’s devoted to her father, he uses her as a scapegoat for anything that goes wrong.
It’s all too much for this briskly-paced drama, but I have to give Ruzowitzky and Dean credit for trying to juggle all these characters. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was even some good material that didn’t make the final cut. There’s enough thoughtfulness here to suggest the filmmakers were more interested in crafting a character study than a thriller. Ruzowitzky gets great work out of his cast, with Bana really working overtime to make Addison a believably confused and unpredictable individual. Wilde is strong too, allowing Liza to teeter on the thin line between playing coy (in her romance with Jay) and being willfully naïve (believing Addison is capable of rational thought).
Magnolia’s Blu-ray presentation of Deadfall is neither exciting nor lacking in any way. The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer looks fine, with Shane Hurlbut’s 35mm cinematography looking reasonably sharp. The CG snowflakes blend in with the practical footage quite nicely, with a good amount of fine detail still visible during these outdoor blizzard scenes. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is anchored mainly to the front channels, opening up to the rears occasionally for Marco Beltrami’s score and the blustery fury of the snow storm. The LFE channel kicks in when it should, such as the crazy rollover car crash near the beginning.
The special features included here are mostly unnecessary. Almost all of the featurettes and interviews are EPK pieces designed to entice viewers, not to convey any real information about the making of the film. It’s always nice when extras are included, but there’s nothing here anyone’s likely to find useful.
Deadfall is kind of a missed opportunity in the sense that it sets up some good plot lines but doesn’t follow through on the potential of any of them. The end result is hard to feel strongly about one way or the other. If you’re a fan of anyone in the cast, you’re likely to find something of interest.
(Photos: Magnolia Home Entertainment)