A modern day Western noir about the uniquely American tendency to find redemption and resolution through violence, Deadfall holds magnificent promise. So much promise that at all times, even during the plodding first hour of its 95 minute runtime that's devoted entirely to talky exposition, you keep thinking that it'll pay off. That never happens, and what we're left with is little more than an atmospheric mood piece populated by thinly sketched characters who seem primarily concerned with articulating the film's themes. Lest you should be so thick as to otherwise miss them, of course.
Deadfall, directed by Austrian emigré Stefan Ruzowitsky, previously best known for the 2007 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film, The Counterfeiters, presents a triptych of dysfunctional parent-child relationships (or, rather, guardian-child relationships) in the guise of a thriller. Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde are Addison and Liza, two siblings on the run they've just barely escaped from a botched casino heist, as the film opens who're making their way to the Canadian border across the frozen countryside of Wisconsin or Minnesota. Though they're brother and sister, it's clear that Addison is a father figure to Liza, and that she'll do almost anything for her ''protector.'' They split up to avoid detection, and, while Addison goes on a psychotic killing spree among his victims is the dialogue, for the otherwise excellent Bana sports the worst twang since Jon Bernthal's Walking Dead character Liza hitchhikes a ride from Jay (Sons of Anarchy's Charlie Hunnam), an ex-boxer and silver medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Jay's just gotten out of prison after being convicted of fraud for throwing a match.
Liza is played with mercurial perfection by Wilde, who flashes those dewy saucer eyes at Jay and quickly melts his heart. She's a fallen angel who would have turned out okay if it just hadn't been for her no-good brother. That makes us root for her, sure. But it doesn't make her much more evolved or rounded a character than a Lillian Gish gamine in a D.W. Griffith movie. Hunnam, however, goes further and identifies a streak of glowering menace in Jay that makes him much more three-dimensional than the Channing Tatum-caliber ''sensitive hunk'' character that he's clearly supposed to be in the dialogue. He's hoping to make amends with his father (Kris Kristofferson), who's never forgiven him for throwing that fight, and he invites Liza to have Thanksgiving dinner with him and his familyat their house conveniently located near the border for a quick post-turkey flight into Canada.
Finally, the third parent-child relationship, between the deputy (Kate Mara) who's tracking Bana and Wilde's bandits and her father, the sheriff (Treat Williams), can be summed up in this particularly un-nutritious bit of dialogue:
Father: ''If you were one of my boys I'd hit you so f***ing hard.
Daughter: ''If I were one of your boys you'd be proud of me.''
All three of these relationships find their resolution in a genuinely suspenseful Thanksgiving dinner standoff and, finally, shootout. But the neatness with which these conflicts are resolved proves that this film's script, penned by first-time (and it shows) screenwriter Zach Dean, contains a diagram more than a plot. No matter how hard this outstanding ensemble of actors may try, they can't bring these characters to flesh-and-blood life. Which is a shame because Ruzowitsky otherwise has such a command of this material. His photography of a frozen, rural Midwest may be the most vividly realized depiction of snow, of the sheer sensation of cold, since Courtney Hunt's remarkable Frozen River in 2008. Ruzowitsky uses landscape to enhance his lonely characters' isolation, but ultimately we're the ones who walk away feeling cold.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 1/2 stars.