Deadfall probably means to be serious. It deals in stories that have serious elements in them: familial bonds, redemption, abuse, forgiveness, and murder. But the thing is, it tells too many stories. It splits the narrative up between disparate characters with very different motivations and basically mashes them up into an unworkable gruel of a movie. Craft lingers around the edges of the movie, but as a whole, it mostly feels like a complicated mistake.
Siblings Addison and Liza (Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde) have just robbed an Indian casino. They get into a car accident, and Addison is forced to kill a state trooper. The two split up in the middle of the Michigan winter, planning to meet up again once they cross the border. Meanwhile, disgraced boxer Jay (Charlie Hunnam) has just gotten out on parole, but he quickly lands himself in trouble when he tries to collect some money from his old trainer. He runs away, and circumstances point him towards his parents’ house on the border. Also in the mix is deputy sheriff Hanna (Kate Mara), who’s fighting to win the respect of the sheriff father. Though he keeps her off the case, she stumbles on to the fugitives anyway.
This is one of those movies that can’t settle on one plot. It collects a bunch of them and then just has them intersect in one big climactic finale. It’s an often-difficult approach to storytelling, and this movie doesn’t really put in the effort to really make it work. It keeps the characters thin and their drama overblown. It only hints at complexity, never intending to flesh out the stories and resolve all of the loose threads. By the end, it feels like the film told five or six unfinished stories. Most movies are better off telling a single complete narrative.
There are intriguing bits of flavor in the corners of this movie. It has an interesting setting, taking full advantage of the harsh Michigan winter. It also takes place during Thanksgiving, which meshes well with the movie’s motif of family dysfunction. And the action is actually fairly well done. It’s just that it so often feels disconnected from the rest of the story. It feels like the movie has to take breaks from its narrative to make room for the violence. A couple of times, it introduces new characters with broad motivations simply to fuel the action.
Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde are immediately handicapped by their use of ridiculous Southern accents. Accents are always a tricky thing, and neither one of the actors makes it feel right. Charlie Hunnam is always endearingly broody, but a little one-dimensional. Treat Williams overdoes the overbearing father act, but that seems to be written into the character. Kris Kristofferson and Sissy Spacek acquit themselves of the movie’s excesses best, displaying a lived-in quality that suggests a history beyond the short timeframe that we get to know them.
Deadfall is too gimmicky for its own good. Any one of these stories could have made for a decent crime thriller. An interesting setting and a little local flavor can do wonders to elevate even the simplest of stories. But this movie tries to tell a whole bunch of them, choosing quantity of narrative over quality. The result is predictably underwhelming, the movie failing to cohere as it juggles the different threads. By the time the threads converge, their stories have become too bogged down by contrivance to take seriously.