No matter how tense your Thanksgiving gathering, it will be festive compared to the goose dinner that brings together the major characters of “Deadfall.”
This bloody white noir puts members of three troubled families through some thrilling action sequences, but works best in tense personal encounters.
Oscar-winning director Stefan Ruzowitzky (“The Counterfeiters”) benefits from a strong supporting cast, led by Sissy Spacek and Kate Mara, who get more out of first-time screenwriter Zach Dean’s script than he put into it. An effective Kris Kristofferson and underused Treat Williams provide the patriarchy.
“Deadfall” begins with a bang. As their wheelman steers a black limo down a snowy backroad, Southern-ish siblings Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) rejoice in their haul from a Native-American casino in rural Michigan. They haven’t so much broken the bank as robbed it.
Then, bang. Things go wrong. With polite contrition, Addison deliberately makes them worse. He and his sister separate and flee on foot, heading for Canada as the snow deepens.
Meanwhile, in Detroit, Jay (Charlie Hunnam), a former boxer with anger management issues, gets released from prison with things on his mind. He took a dive, and then took the fall for the fixed fighter. Now, he wants a payoff from his slippery manager.
Once again, this does not work out. Jay quickly leaves town, heading for his parents’ place near the Canadian border. As Jay’s father Chet, a retired lawman, Kristofferson is impassive at his son’s release.
But as his mother June, Spacek welcomes the prospect of having the family reunited for Thanksgiving. She even invites Jay’s old friend Hanna, a smart but self-effacing sheriff’s deputy played by Mara.
Hanna’s father is the current sheriff, Becker, but that only puts her in the departmental line of fire. It seems that her mother left, likely because she could not stand another moment with the sheriff, so Becker has turned his anger on his loyal daughter.
The pitfalls are obvious. While there is a lot of talent lower down on the marquee, the plot rests on headliners Bana and Wilde, known as two very pretty people, and Hunnam, that biker guy from TV.
Fortunately, the three leads all raise their games as much as they are allowed. Bana in particular adopts an air of courtly menace that illuminates the creepy but protective relationship between the siblings. They also get considerable help from Ruzowitzky and skillful cinematographer Shane Hurlbut.
Addison’s trail toward his rendezvous with Liza is filled with incident, some of which Dean might have reconsidered. For a conman/robber who is controlled in fraught situations, he sure tends to kill a lot of people without introduction.
While initiating some thrilling action sequences, Addison himself takes a licking but keeps on ticking. A chase on snowmobiles sends pulses racing. At this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Ruzowitzky explained that some of that effectiveness came from strapping Sony consumer video cameras onto the machines as they hurtled along, swerving and crashing. Such sequences make “Deadfall” worth viewing on s big screen.
All this criminal activity activates the local gendamerie, even as a blizzard blows through the area. Unfortunately, Sheriff Becker is written as a one-note character, ever solicitous of his “boys” but contemptuous of his daughter. Mara is particularly impressive keeping Hanna a quiet, observant character even as the script puts her through virtual schoolyard bullying.
Meanwhile, in another part of the woods, Jay has picked up the shivering Liza, or perhaps vice versa. When the snow closes the road home, they are forced, forced I say, to spend the night together in a motel, sharing some but not all of their secrets.