Set largely during a blizzard along the Michigan-Canadian border, ‘Deadfall’ sends a chill of disappointment down the spine.
Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky, who won an Oscar for his 2007 film ‘The Counterfeiters’, abandons the subtleties of that picture for the cliches and contrivance of this disjointed crime thriller, penned by first-time screenwriter Zach Dean.
The script is a mess, ricocheting between four narrative threads that only come together in the film’s violent closing act.
That haphazard structure prevents Ruzowitzky from building up any dramatic momentum or forging strong emotional ties between us and the characters.
He thaws our interest slightly with a couple of well-orchestrated action sequences that make excellent use of the icy conditions.
A car crash opens the film with a crash and a bang, and a subsequent snowmobile chase between two cops and a robber across undulating terrain has a satisfyingly grisly and bloody resolution.
Addison (Eric Bana), his sister Liza (Olivia Wilde) and an accomplice pull off a casino heist and speed away along treacherous, snow-laden roads, bound for the Canadian border.
The getaway car swerves to avoid a deer and ends up on its roof.
Addison and Liza stumble out of the wreckage with the loot, determined to evade the cops by hitchhiking separately to the border.
Liza shares a lift with former Olympic boxer Jay Mills (Charlie Hunnam), who has just been released from prison and is heading home for Thanksgiving with his parents Chet (Kris Kristofferson) and June (Sissy Spacek).
Addison takes time out from his flight to freedom to help an abused wife deal with her bullying husband.
Meanwhile, ambitious Sheriff’s Deputy Hannah (Kate Mara) tracks the fleeing criminals but she is constantly held back by her father, Sheriff Marshall T Becker (Treat Williams), who humiliates her in front of the other officers.
“What happens if we get out there and something major happens, like you have to change a tampon?” he sneers unconvincingly to justify his decision to keep Hannah at the station during the manhunt.
‘Deadfall’ is a peculiar mish-mash of genres, spiked with graphic violence and gratuitous nudity involving Hunnam and Wilde’s insipid lovers.
Bana invests his emotionally damaged felon with moribund humour in scenes around the Mills dinner table, and Spacek and Kristofferson are convincing as a married couple who have coped with far worse than gun-toting fugitives in their home.
Dialogue doesn’t flow naturally and adding to that feeling of artificiality, some of the snow appears to be computer-generated: Bana and Wilde manage to conduct a long conversation in a swirling downpour without a single flake landing on them.
The shifts in tone between black comedy, romance and suspense are often jarring and Dean’s script fails to seamlessly weave together its themes of incest and redemption.
Star Rating: 2½