Case Number 25380: Small Claims Court


Magnolia Pictures // 2012 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // March 5th, 2013

The Charge

"A thrilling showdown that pushes the bonds of family to the limit."

The Case

America is a big country. So big, in fact, that large parts of it are like their own separate countries, with customs and peoples not found anywhere else. One of those places is Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It's cold and isolated normally, but when bad weather sets in, the area's inhabitants might as well be on the moon. That's a fact that Deadfall counts on, setting a tight little thriller in the remote area made more remote by a blizzard. It's not the most memorable thriller ever made, but Deadfall is a decent night's entertainment with this solid Blu-ray release.

Sibling con artists Addison (Eric Bana, Star Trek) and Liza (Olivia Wilde, Cowboys and Aliens) have just scored big off a tribal casino, but their car hits an icy patch of road, sending them spinning off into the wild. When a police car arrives, they reluctantly dispatch the officer. Now they're on the run for killing a cop, and the pair split up to be safe. They decide to meet again at the border. As they make their separate ways north through Michigan's Upper Peninsula, they meet a number of interesting characters.

Deadfall sells itself as a sexy thriller, and it succeeds in offering enough material to qualify it for both descriptions. We've got Olivia Wilde as a nascent femme fatale, and Kate Mara as a young officer trying to prove herself. For those who prefer men, Deadfall has you covered. Eric Bana is a seductive con artist, while Sons of Anarchy fans will be happy to see Charlie Hunnam playing a well-conditioned boxer. The film doesn't even play favorites with young people, offering Kris Kristofferson and Sissy Spacek as an older couple with a remote house. Of course, in addition to being sexy, the cast is also filled with a bunch of really excellent actors. The roles they're asked to play might fall on the stereotypical side, but everyone involved tackles their roles like it was Shakespeare.

For thrilling elements, we've got a bit of overkill. Addison and Liza start out as con artists, then quickly become cop killers. Addison even offs another person to get a snowmobile, which doubles the attention of the police. Charlie Hunnam plays a boxer who's just gotten out of jail and confronted his boss, maybe killing him, and he's the one giving Liza a ride. Of course the boxer's parents are Kristofferson and Spacek, at whose house everything must inevitably unravel. Along the way, we get cat-and-mouse with the cops, a bunch of dead bodies, and a bit of violence here and there.

We also get a pretty decent Deadfall (Blu-ray) release. The 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is generally strong. The film unsurprisingly skews both dark and blue, but black levels remain deep and consistent throughout. Detail is strong throughout, with a good amount of fine-object detail. The DTS-HD 5.1 track does an excellent job with the film's audio. Dialogue is clean and clear from the center channel, with the rest of the soundstage filled with the wild winds of northern Michigan. Action scenes display appropriate punch, and gunshots are especially impressive.

Extras start with a pair of featurettes -- the first looks at film in extreme cold, while the second profiles the director's thoughts on family (the obvious theme that runs throughout the broken homes of Deadfall). Next up are 20 minutes of interviews with Wilde, Bana, and director Stefan Ruzowitsky. Ruzowitsky gets the lion's share of the screen time, but all three participants do a fine job of talking about their involvement with the film. There is also eight minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, and a brief, EPK-style promo for the film. Finally, the film's trailer is included.

I wish I had more positive things to say about Deadfall. However, it's a decent generic thriller. Except for the cast -- who might be wasted on a series of fairly typical plot points -- there's nothing really remarkable about the film. Everything, from the script to the cinematography is executed with workmanlike care, but none of it rises above typical direct-to-video fare. The collection of characters feels like someone called central casting and asked for a handful of noir stereotypes -- the disgraced boxer, the con artists -- and the way they all just happen to end up in each other's paths only makes sense if you don't think about it too hard. Giving every character a messed up family also feels a bit heavy handed. I appreciate the ambition, but it feels a bit unnecessary in the context of this thriller.

Deadfall may be the perfect rental disc, a decent little thriller that will fill up a Friday or Saturday evening's viewing slot perfectly with an attractive cast and a few plot twists. The Blu-ray looks and sounds excellent, and even the extras provide a nice bit of context for curious viewers. The film might not earn a place as a permanent fixture of most video collections, but it's perfect for a home video one-night-stand.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)

* English (SDH)
* Spanish

Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Featurettes
* Interviews
* Trailer

* IMDb