DEAD MAN DOWN
About the Production
Explosive, emotional and darkly funny, Dead Man Down is an unusual combination: a gangster chronicle anchored in the story of Victor and Beatrice, each the survivor of a crippling loss, brought together by rage, grief and a thirst for vengeance. The screenplay by J.H. (Joel) Wyman, writer of the Brad Pitt-Julia Roberts adventure The Mexican and showrunner for the cult-hit television series "Fringe," percolated for six years as the complexities of the story and characters came together.
"Joel is a very meticulous writer," says producer Reid Shane, a partner with Wyman in Frequency Films and co-executive producer of "Fringe." "He wouldn't release this script until he had all the intricacies of the characters worked out completely. Victor is a man of mystery. We aren't sure whether he's a good guy or a bad guy. He's done some terrible things. And Beatrice is very strange in her own way. They go off in a completely different direction than you expect."
Wyman was approached by Neil Moritz and Ori Marmur of Original Films to adapt a French thriller they were planning to remake as an American feature film. "Joel came back and said, 'I have a much better thriller that I'm working on right now,'" recalls Shane. "He gave them a copy of Dead Man Down."
Marmur, who became an executive producer on the film, was immediately intrigued. "The screenplay was unique," he says. "It's a revenge thriller, with a lot of unexpected twists and turns. We immediately fell in love with it because it was so different from any of the movies we'd made or that we saw in the marketplace.
"There are moments that are dark and edgy, there are moments that are scary, there are moments that are suspenseful," he continues. "There's the struggle between the light and the dark in our two main characters, Victor and Beatrice. All of these great themes were embedded in the screenplay from the start."
Selecting a director for such unusual material was the subject of much discussion for Marmur and his associates, but they always came back to the same name: Niels Arden Oplev, the Danish-born director who was catapulted to international fame in 2009 by the Swedish film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
"We all really loved his work on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," says Marmur. "He brought a great look and sensibility and style to that film, as well as getting amazing performances from the actors. When we spoke with him about Dead Man Down, he had a clear and specific vision for this film, as well as great passion and enthusiasm for the script."
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was a phenomenon," says Reid Shane. "The book had taken the world by storm. Niels was able to capture the drama, the suspense and the action of the story on film. We thought this script had a very similar vibe and that he had the perfect sensibility for that."
Following the critical acclaim and commercial success of the movie, Oplev had become a hot commodity in Hollywood. He was courted by the major studios and flooded with offers. He was eager to make his first American film, but he passed on a raft of high-profile screenplays before reading Dead Man Down. "I read perhaps 250 scripts in two and a half years," says the director. "A handful seemed interesting, but the script for Dead Man Down was nearly perfect. Joel Wyman wrote a fantastic script, there's no question about that. It has an enormous number of twists and turns. Just when you think you know something, something else happens that changes everything."
The director was drawn to what he says are all the ingredients of a classic and entertaining American film -- revenge, action and a mysterious plot that unveils itself little by little. "And inside this whole package is an unconventional love story that audiences have not seen before. The story has appeal for a wide audience, but at the same time, it has the potential for real artistic accomplishment. It is a fantastic mixture."
The theme of redemption, so central to this story, is one of Oplev's favorites. "The story of Victor and Beatrice is very much about getting another shot at life," he explains. "They meet in the heart of darkness. All the crazy things that happen from there bring them to a point where they are granted a second chance."
Once Oplev agreed to direct, the film became an even hotter property, attracting the attention of Stuart Ford, CEO of IM Global, who became an executive producer of the film and provided the financing. "It is a smart, sophisticated thriller with real intelligence and an emotional pulse," he says. "Audiences got to see a lot more of this kind of movie in the '70s, which I think was the heyday of this genre.
"The great action sequences, great villains and macho characters provide commercial appeal for the male action audience," says Ford. "But it also has unexpected emotional appeal, which will bring in the more upscale audiences that loved Niels' previous movies."
Oplev has a gift for creating suspense, observes Ford. "But he also has real sophistication as a filmmaker and a storyteller. He is able to interweave a fairly complicated plot into a really satisfying feature film. He is very skilled at telling emotional stories, but with a lack of sentimentality. His unique visual style was another advantage. All of those qualities were fantastic ingredients to bring to the Dead Man Down mix."
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