Handsome photography and a talented cast get snowed out by a shaky screenplay and contrived dialogue in Deadfall, a thriller that starts out promising, but meanders too much to build any real dramatic tension.
In the wake of a botched heist in Mount Pleasant, MI, sibling casino robbers Addison (Eric Bana) and Liza (Olivia Wilde) are making a mad dash for the Canadian border when their car careens off the icy road, and their getaway driver is instantly killed. After a policeman stumbles across the accident scene moments later, Addison impulsively pumps him full of bullets, gives half of the cash to Liza, and insists that the pair split up. Later, as the desperate Addison holes up in a secluded hunting cabin, Liza stands shivering by the side of the road, where she's eventually picked up by ex-con and former Olympic pugilist Jay (Charlie Hunnam), who's on the run from the police himself following a scrape with a Detroit gym owner. Upon learning that Jay is heading to his parents' house for Thanksgiving, Liza tells her brother where they will be, and Addison manages to reach the home first, quickly taking Jay's mother June (Sissy Spacek) and father Chet (Kris Kristofferson) -- a retired sheriff -- hostage. The situation turns critical when Jay and Liza arrive at the house to find Addison holding June and Chet at gunpoint, and as the group gathers around the table the local police begin to close in. Meanwhile, with his options quickly running out and his sister falling for a hostage, the trigger-happy Addison seems capable of snapping at any moment.
On the surface, Deadfall has all the makings of a great thriller -- the concept is strong, the cast top-shelf, and the atmosphere appropriately oppressive -- but even with all of those factors working to its advantage, screenwriter Zach Dean fails to give the film a solid foundation to stand on. Too tidy to reflect the random tragedy of crime and too slow to get to the tense centerpiece, Dean's screenplay wastes far too much time meandering though dive bars, seedy hotel rooms, and ramshackle hunting cabins to build the dramatic tension needed to support its themes of family and home. By attempting to cram all of these events into a compact, 94-minute film, Dean fails to focus on the one thing that would truly make Deadfall compelling -- the deteriorating relationship between the volatile, overprotective Addison and his fragile sister Liza, whose nagging conscience makes the criminal lifestyle virtually impossible to endure.
As Liza, Wilde displays a believable mix of vulnerability, unpredictability, and danger that's nicely offset by Bana's frightening emotional restraint. We know what kind of violence he's capable of from the opening moments of the film, and the more we learn about their tragic history, the more interesting the characters become. Sadly, Dean drops them into the screenplay too late to create any sort of compelling, sustained drama. Hunnam, meanwhile, does a commendable job of transitioning Jay from a character we fear to a character that we root for. As his gruff father, Kristofferson does manage to hit the correct emotional notes when the story calls for it, and Spacek shines with quiet strength as the mother caught in the middle of a long-simmering father-son feud. By the time all of these characters come together, however, their Desperate Hours play out in mere minutes -- robbing the final stand-off of its emotional and thematic delivery. Yet through it all, director Stefan Ruzowitzky shows a good eye for detail -- an asset that's nicely complemented by Shane Hurlbut's vivid cinematography. Alas, it takes more than a pretty picture to keep audiences on the edge of their seats, and by the time the guns are all drawn in this frustratingly botched thriller, they're more likely to be slouching in them instead.