Deadfall is a cold, cold film. Not simply due to its blizzard-at-the-edge-of-America setting, but rather something deeper within its dark heart.

Deadfall begins with a moment of sudden violence that sends a brother and sister on two separate paths, leading them inevitably on a journey that demystifies the illusion of the picture-perfect American family image, in a bold and captivating fashion.

The film follows three families at its core: Addison and Lisa, a brother and sister on the run to the border after a casino heist; Jay Mills, an ex-Olympic boxer whose past mistakes have come back to haunt him, and his parents, the doting but strong willed June, and ex-sheriff Chet, the family patriarch who struggles to accept his son for his past actions; and finally, Hanna Becker, a talented young police officer and her bullying father, Sheriff Marshall T. Becker.

All these characters will collide on Thanksgiving night, forcing them to confront themselves, their demons in the past and their tenuous futures. This narrative exploration of the American family separates it from modern crime films, and also places the film on an almost mythological level.

Indeed this, along with the use of expansive landscapes and its moments of sudden violence, place Deadfall within the realm of the western, a return to the classical myths of American identity, and man’s relationship with nature at its most grand. However, the film also includes elements that are suggestive of the film noir genre, in particular the moral ambiguity, the lost and damaged Addison and Jay, and the femme fatale Lisa.

The combination of these two archetypal American film genres link Deadfall to American film history, imbuing the film with a sense of scale, and reinforcing the depth and complexity of the film’s characters by association.

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While the narrative is successful, if overly heavy handed at times, the performances of its leading actors drive the film and embrace the western-noir tone Rusowitzky establishes. Eric Bana, as the damaged and dangerous Addison, is particularly impressive. Addison could have simply been a one-dimensional villain, a shadow rather than a complete entity.

Instead, Bana dominates the film with such ferocity, physicality and honesty, crafting a three-dimensional character who is both deplorable and sympathetic. Addison is a man whose life has been shaped by abuse and fear, with his sister the only light in his darkness. In Bana’s hands, the unrelenting violence in his pursuit to find her is truthful, and utterly captivating.

Alongside Bana, Olivia Wilde’s performance as troubled femme fatale Lisa is also extremely complex and wonderfully realised; she imbues Lisa with a playful sexuality, one that she always laces with a sense of vulnerability and desperation, turning it into a façade to mask her sexual confusion and emotional instability.

Visually, the film is a beautiful interplay between gritty reality and the majestic sweep of nature at its most pure and unforgiving; Rusowitzky captures the landscape in the height of a vicious blizzard, a white blanket that the morally grey characters are contrasted against. Indeed, Rusowitzky contrasts the beauty of nature, with dark interiors such as bars, hotel rooms and cabins, in which the characters are forced to hide, and engage in moments of emotional vulnerability and revelation.

The film’s conclusion at the Mills’ home is the ultimate moment of this vulnerability and revelation, but rather than the starkness established earlier in the film, Rusowitzky injects dark humour, creating a parody of a family gathering, full of the tension, forced civility and illusion that are lurking in these events, but with added explosive potential and energy; a fitting finale for a film about the fallacy of the family image.

Alongside the beautiful starkness of the visuals, the sound design is magnificent. From the sound of crisp footsteps in the snow, the brutal impact of shotgun blasts on flesh, and the angry roar of snowmobile engines, the carefully orchestrated sound reflects the mood and attitude of the film itself; constantly on the edge, moving between the subtle and the explosive, as if embracing the pure emotions that define the complex relationships between family members.

Deadfall is a unique film about family and what happens when ties that bind them start pulling tighter and tighter; It is full of emotion, unapologetically brutal violence, twisted humour and a dark beauty, most perfectly expressed through the performances of the two central families, each member as fragile as the snowflakes that relentlessly fall.

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk