It's hard to decide which aspect of "Deadfall" is the worst: The shoddy story, the cliche-filled dialogue, the stilted performances, the muddled direction, and the clunky, rhythmless editing all make strong candidates. Thankfully, there's no need to make that decision. They're all individually inept, and they don't get any better when combined. There's almost nothing interesting, entertaining or worthwhile in this dreadful Western-tinged neo-noir: "Deadfall" is lifeless.
Like a lot of noirish thrillers, "Deadfall" begins and ends with blood and money. The movie kicks off with one dead body — killed in an icy car wreck while escaping from an offscreen robbery at an Indian casino — and then adds a few more before it's over. The deaths are just grisly enough to be slightly repulsive, but at least the stiffs grabbed my attention, which is more than I can say for most of the characters who lived.
The movie's cast is a mixed bag of hard-luck types: There's Jay (Charlie Hunnam), the ex-con boxer who makes a bad choice at the beginning of the story and ends up on the run. There's Liza (Olivia Wilde), the bad-girl seductress who maybe isn't quite so bad after all. There's Hanna (Kate Mara), the soft-spoken but competent state trooper who gets pulled into the story's web of crime. And there's Addison (Eric Bana), Liza's vicious older brother and the mastermind behind the casino robbery.
After surviving the opening accident, Addison and Liza split up. Liza ends up with Jay, who's running from the police for his own reasons. Hanna, meanwhile, follows Addison's trail of violence — which eventually leads to a confrontation in Jay's family farmhouse, complete with a tense, guns-drawn Thanksgiving dinner served by Jay's parents (Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson).
The middle of the movie spends far too much time on Liza's seduction of Jay, but at least those two characters have something to do. Addison spends almost a quarter of the film hiding out at a cabin in the woods having conversations with a little girl. These bits are supposed to set up Addison as a conflicted protector — a bad guy, yes, but one who has a soft spot for his little sister. But the scenes are boring and beside the point, contributing almost nothing to the larger story.
Not that there's much to enjoy there, either. The dialogue is an awkward mix of lazy cliches and too-obvious imagery and foreshadowing. And while it's hard to imagine anyone delivering these leaden lines with grace, the performers don't even make a basic effort. Mr. Hunnam is particularly grating as the clueless Jay, an unlikable lunk who doesn't make a single smart decision in the film.
What's it all about? Who knows? All of the characters have deep-seated daddy issues of some sort, none of which are ever developed or resolved. The movie sometimes seems to want to be about bad life choices, such as when a colleague tells Hanna, "This is your life. And you only get one." That's as good a reason to skip "Deadfall" as any I can think of.
CREDITS: Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky, screenplay by Zach Dean
RATING: R for sexuality, nudity, bloody violence, language
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
(MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS)