Criminal siblings Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) are on the run after pulling off a big casino heist when their car crashes leaving them stranded in the snowy wilderness. The pair decide to go their separate ways until they find a suitable rendezvous point from whence to plan their escape across the border to Canada. While Addison cuts a murderous swathe through the wild, Liza hitches a ride and sparks up a relationship with Jay (Charlie Hunnam), one-time boxer now ex-con. On the run after accidentally killing his crooked manager on his first day out on parole, Jay hopes to hide out at his parents’ house near the border. Unfortunately when Jay and Liza finally reach the home of June (Sissy Spacek) and Chet Mills (Kris Kristofferson) they find an unexpected guest has joined them for Thanksgiving dinner.
Audiences and critics were unsure what to make of Deadfall. Not to be confused with the like-named Bryan Forbes thriller with Michael Caine from 1968 or Christopher Coppola’s 1993 effort pairing Charlie Sheen and Nicolas Cage, this particular Deadfall is a quirky character driven drama masquerading as a hard-boiled crime thriller. The offbeat mix of introspective melancholy drama with unsettling visceral violence proved somewhat jarring for filmgoers expecting a conventional white knuckle suspense piece but may engage those with a taste for the offbeat and ambitious. On occasion those ambitions exceed its grasp but for the most part writer Zach Dean crafts a richly textured and nuanced screenplay that quite ingeniously subverts the motifs underlining the Thanksgiving holiday to explore its core theme of family.
The film’s plot revolves around family relationships that are by turns strained, co-dependent or in some instances abusive. Our central protagonists, Addison and Liza share a quasi-incestuous bond ever since the former saved the latter from an abusive father. At one point in the film Addison steps in to save a woman and two children from her violent husband and briefly bonds with the little girl (Teale Hansen) who seemingly reminds him of Liza. Another reoccurring theme throughout the story is parents being either disappointed with or undervaluing their children. Whether it is Chet’s strained attitude towards his son Jay, who seemingly threw away his promising boxing career for the sake of easy money, or the intertwined sub-plot concerning Hanna (Kata Mara) the plucky female deputy whose pursuit of Addison is complicated both by her sexist colleague and belligerent jerk of a father who also happens to be the local Sheriff (Treat Williams). Dean’s episodic yet intricately woven screenplay gradually reveals more about each protagonist as the plot chugs along, although it is the central sibling duo along with Mara’s long-suffering young deputy who prove the most interesting.
It is tautly directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky who juggles multiple plot strands with no small amount of dexterity and throws in some suspenseful and well staged chase sequences across the vast, snowy wastes. This was the German filmmaker’s first English language project following in the wake of his Oscar winning drama The Counterfeiters (2007) although he previously made a splash on the international scene with visceral thriller Anatomie (1998) and demonstrated his versatility with All the Queen’s Men (2001) a Second World War soldiers-in-drag action comedy pairing Friends star Matt LeBlanc with comedian Eddie Izzard and the children’s fantasy Lilly the Witch: The Dragon and the Magic Book (2009). Here he draws the best out of skilled players Bana, Williams and Mara whilst giving veteran actors like Sissy Spacek and Treat Williams their best roles in quite a while. Especially compelling is the sequence where all the characters assemble around the Thanksgiving dinner table as a gun-toting Addison goads them into venting their repressed angst and anger. Unfortunately the resolution is not quite as satisfying though the film retains enough ingenuity, wit and insight to remain worth a look.