There are approximately 12 films that could have been made from the various story strands found in the ensemble thriller Deadfall, any one of which would have likely made for a more resonating experience than the sticky hodgepodge that Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky and first-time scripter Zach Dean have concocted here. What initially seems like the beginning to a feature-length retelling of “Pine Barrens,” the excellent lost-in-the-woods episode of The Sopranos, quickly begins to pick up stray characters and plotlines, which almost immediately diminishes the little pleasure to be found in the initial setup.
Plotted not unlike John Frankenheimer’s Reindeer Games, yet somehow even more needlessly convoluted, Deadfall begins in the aftermath of a casino heist pulled off by criminal siblings Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde), who emerge from a violent car crash and are forced to separately traverse the snowbound Michigan forest. At the very same time, Jay (Charlie Hunnam), an erstwhile professional boxer and paroled prisoner who took the silver medal at the Beijing Olympics, is on the lam after critically injuring his ex-trainer and corner man. On his way to visit his parents (Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson) for Thanksgiving, Jay finds Liza, falls for her, and fucks her with predictable expediency, as Addison finds himself the unlikely savior in a domestic violence dispute.
Adding starch to this already tedious and frustratingly detoured stew is Katey Mara’s Hanna, a keen police officer stuck on the sidelines during the investigation into the death of a state trooper Addison shot during his escape. Hanna constantly strives for acceptance from her misogynist father (Treat Williams), the chief of police, but hers is a pointless and barely developed trajectory, further distancing the audience from the three main characters and their narrative configuration, which is, to be fair, equally as bland and atypical of this familiar scenario.
And yet, as all forces converge on Jay’s parents’ home, the brunt of the film’s energy is laid squarely at Bana’s feet, as his quirky and insufficiently complex villain uses Thanksgiving dinner as a stage for a game of confessions. The consistently underrated actor is the liveliest presence here, delivering his lines with unhinged humor and barely concealed anxiety, neither of which is felt palpably in the script alone. In comparison, Hunnam and Mara perform competently, and Wilde, perhaps expectedly, is asked to endure a completely unnecessary nude scene amid all the oedipal rigmarole.
Still, none of Bana’s mildly rousing moments clearly rise above the laborious gobbledygook that Ruzowitzky builds up through the course of the film’s 94-minute duration. Coming off his above-par Holocaust drama, The Counterfeiters, the Austrian filmmaker peppers Deadfall, his second English-language feature to see stateside release, after the unsettling Anatomy, with a few flecks of real old-fashioned excitement: a crackerjack snowmobile chase, an intimate discussion between Addison and a young hostage, Hanna’s father blindly blaming her for the death of two of her fellow officers. But the dramatic pulp of the film—Jay and Liza’s evolving romance, Addison’s weakening dominance—remains thin and unmoving throughout, making the few genuine thrills in this limp thriller all the more disposable in the wake of the film’s predictable conclusion. Shamelessly taking its cues from any number of plots originated by Friedkin, Hill, Frankenheimer and Huston, Deadfall nevertheless feels far more turgid than your usual run-of-the-mill retread.