"We make our plans, sure. But life … life is what happens along the way."
These are the first words we hear in Dead Man Down. Victor hears them too—but they don't mean much to him. Not after all the plans he's made, the deeds he's done. Victor's a killer, you see. He's killed before and he'll kill again in the quest to rid himself of his demons and pain. He has no time for life.
Then he meets Beatrice—a woman with a mangled face and a scarred psyche. She lives in the same apartment complex he does, just one building over. They wave to each other from their respective balconies.
And when they officially meet, Victor discovers that they have something important in common: They both want someone dead.
Once a beautician, Beatrice's face—and life—was shredded by a drunk driver. The driver spent three weeks in prison, and that's not enough for Beatrice. "He didn't pay," she says. But when she first noticed Victor—noticed him killing a man just one building over—a ray of hope appeared in her life. The death of that driver, she believes, will be a magic salve on her wounded face. Victor can kill this man who might as well have killed her.
So she proposes a deal: Murder her drunk-driving demon and she won't turn Victor in for the killing she saw.
He doesn't want to accept the deal. "Do you know what it is to kill a man?!" he yells. But he has little choice. And, really, considering all the killing he's already planning, what's one dead body more?
Dead Man Down isn't just a violent thriller. It's a love story. And also a bit of a resurrection story.
Victor and Beatrice are so deeply wounded they might as well be dead. The only thing left for either of them, it seems, is revenge. They want to kill the people responsible for causing them so much pain.
But as they plot and plan together, they discover there's more left to them than vengeance. Both learn, in a halting, shuffling way, that life can still hold some peace and joy and love. As Victor's friend Darcy tells him, "Even the most damaged heart can still be mended."
Beatrice grows to enjoy her time so much with Victor that she almost forgets why she originally met with him. Vengeance's cold comfort can't compare with the warmth of simple human companionship. She begins to cook for him. She wears prettier clothes when she's with him. And when Victor tells her "It's done"—that he's fulfilled his end of their grim bargain—she realizes revenge was not the path to happiness she imagined. Rather, it takes her to an even darker place.
[Spoiler Warning] But Victor didn't kill the guy: He knew Beatrice would, in the end, feel horrible if he did. And for her part, Beatrice too tries to disrupt Victor's own plans for revenge. "I don't want you to die," she tells him. Both of them, then, find they have reason to live, pushing revenge way down on their emotional to-do lists.
There's not much explicit spiritual content to be found in Dead Man Down. But implicitly, the movie is about a sort of salvation, and it seems that director Niels Arden Oplev (who helmed the original Swedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) purposefully uses religious and literary touchstones to underline the theme:
Oplev tries to show us that Victor and Beatrice are, in a sense, already dead—living in hells partly crafted by circumstance, partly of their own making. Human connection becomes a conduit for them to crawl out of those dark places. Darcy has already found his "salvation" in his relationship with his young son (named Theo—the Greek root word for god) and the boy's mother. Intentional? The prominent cross tattooed on Darcy's neck suggests it is. As such, might it be fair to also extract deeper meaning from the name Beatrice? In Dante's Divine Comedy, it is Beatrice, after all, who leads the narrator to heaven.
We see crucifixes and crosses in other places. Victor is told that when you find "the devil," you should kill him quickly. Beatrice owns a lucky rabbit's foot, which she shares with Victor.
A drug dealer and a prostitute are shown in bed together having moaning, movement-filled sex. He's fully naked and she's mostly naked, with critical bits of anatomy covered up by sheets or wadded-up clothes.
Beatrice wears revealing tops. Conversation sometimes touches on prostitution.
In a chaotic gunfight, one man is shot in the head (we see the impact, but little blood) and several others have their bodies riddled with bullets. Victor takes a slug to the side of his torso. We later see the wound covered with a bloody bandage.
Another showdown leaves loads of bad guys dead via bullets, explosions or from getting hit by careening trucks. One guy, caught in a flaming fireball, is shown still standing, fire licking at his flesh. Again, a man is shot in the head.
Beatrice is hit in the face. Earlier, she's hit in the head with something; she falls down, and blood covers her face and white dress. Victor and a man fight before the man is flung out the window with a rope tied around his neck. He dies from the hanging. Rats crawl all over a captive before his assailant shoots him three times. A man is strangled to death. A corpse is found in a freezer.
Offscreen, a man is beaten badly. The visible result is a bit of blood and images of the guy with his arm in a sling and body wrapped in bandages. We see stitches and clotted blood on one of Beatrice's wounds. A building is wired to explode. People fall from heights. We hear that a man's whole family was brutally killed.
Crude or Profane Language
"I swear sometimes," Beatrice admits, drinking. "Especially when I drink." This, we learn, is quite true—though few characters here need the prodding of alcohol to curse. The f-word is used more than 60 times, the s-word another two-dozen. Milder exclamations include "a‑‑." God's name is misused.
Drug and Alcohol Content
A shoot-out takes place in an apartment crammed with cocaine. The place appears to be a distribution center of sorts, filled with scales and tools. A man asks Darcy if he has any weed. Folks drink wine and smoke tobacco. A man staggers to his car, obviously drunk. And it's important to mention again, in this section, that Beatrice was so severely injured in an accident caused by a drunk driver.
Other Negative Elements
Beatrice is bullied by neighborhood teens who call her a "monster" and chant other cruelties. One says he'd hook up with her if she wore a bag over her head. We see the word "monster" scrawled on her apartment door.
In the climactic showdown, Alphonse—the guy Victor's been after the entire movie—kidnaps Beatrice and promises to kill her. Victor soon gives Alphonse a call, telling the villain he's on his way—a dark, flawed knight rescuing his princess.
"You coming for me?" Alphonse asks.
"No, I'm coming for her," Victor says, and he means it.
There's a world of difference between coming to kill someone and coming to save someone. And by this point in the story, it's a distinction Victor understands—and so do we.
But while Victor's heart may be in a better place by the end, the collateral damage we see doesn't change. Alphonse's mansion is barely more than piles of sticks and stones by the time Victor's done. Bodies—shot or broken or burned to a cinder—dot the shabby interior. Victor gets his girl … and he gets his revenge too.
That's Hollywood talk for "happy ending."
But from Plugged In's perspective, the ending's not so enjoyable. The whole message about how unhealthy revenge is might've been better served had more than one or two token bad guys actually lived through the thing. Victor might not have needed his vengeance anymore, but audiences apparently do.