By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Deadfall isn’t quite dead on arrival, but it sure doesn’t make you regret its departure.
It’s a dark, down-and-dirty ensemble thriller set in snowbound Michigan.
Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde play Addison and Liza, criminal siblings who, as the film begins, have just participated in a botched casino heist during which Addison killed a state trooper while making his escape.
However, although this sounds like behavior born of desperation, we’ll soon learn that this is just the way Addison is wired.
In a Thanksgiving blizzard, brother and sister decide that it would be wiser to split up on foot, and they agree to meet up again at the Canadian border.
Addison takes off on his own, an abominable snow man never more than a hair-trigger moment away from extending his killing spree.
Meanwhile, Liza crosses paths and hooks up with an ex-con, played by Charlie Hunnam, who is just out of a Detroit prison and on his way home to his parents — a gruff retired lawman (Kris Kristofferson) and a patient and openly affectionate mom (Sissy Spacek).
As the manhunt continues, a local police officer (Kate Mara) strains to win the respect of her male-chauvinist father (Treat Williams), who just happens to be the chief of police.
As the backstories of the three troubled families reveal themselves, we notice that lots of the characters have major daddy issues of one sort or another.
Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky (the Oscar-winning The Counterfeiters, Anatomy, All the Queen’s Men), working from a script by first-time screenwriter Zach Dean, juggles a few too many characters and subplots for the film’s own good.
But that’s not Deadfall’s biggest problem.
What renders the wintry drama irredeemably unpleasant and objectionable is the pivotal character played by Bana, a cold-blooded killer whose momentary protective or paternal behavior is nonetheless born merely to accommodate his violent tendencies.
This is a character in whom we are monumentally disinterested.
Perhaps that is to some degree Bana’s fault. Maybe another actor could have taken a different approach that would not have been so off-putting.
But the script paints Addison as such a psycho that we don’t wish to spend any time at all in his company, even if he does intervene more or less heroically in a domestic dispute he wanders into that involves yet another abusive father.
The only performer whose work transcends the material enough to showcase her ability to appealing advantage is Mara, whose pain and spunk and three-dimensional psychology feel real if not fresh.
Regardless, by the time the suspenseful Thanksgiving dinner climax arrives, we wish we were long gone, if for no other reason than to get away from the murderous lunatic with no conscience brandishing a gun.
So we’ll threaten 1½ stars out of 4. A detestable protagonist is Deadfall’s downfall.