On the morning Olympic-boxer-turned-convict Charlie Hunnam is released from prison, he stops by his old gym to recover some money he feels he’s owed, and in the process, he assaults an old acquaintance and violates his parole. On the same day, casino-robber Eric Bana and his sister Olivia Wilde have a car accident in the snowy wilderness, and decide to split the money and go their separate ways to elude capture. While all this is going on, small-town deputy Kate Mara is ignoring the orders of her sheriff father, Treat Williams, and is out working a case, during which she visits the remote home of old family friends Kris Kristofferson and Sissy Spacek, who are awaiting a Thanksgiving visit by their son, Hunnam—who along the way picks up a hitchhiker, Wilde. So the pieces of Stefan Ruzowitzky’s thriller Deadfall come together.
One of Deadfall’s biggest problems is that those pieces fit together too neatly, given that the movie takes place over a large stretch of territory in northern Michigan, and features characters who meet mainly by coincidence. Worse, they often talk and behave more like movie characters than people. Bana and Wilde sport bad Southern accents and deliver overly mannered dialogue while dropping hints about their abusive childhood. Williams and his men belittle Mara in stereotypically sexist ways—even though she’s proven herself smart and skilled enough to gain admission to the FBI Academy—and Kristofferson sulks silently while waiting for his wayward son to knock on the door. Once the plotlines converge, Ruzowitzky stages a Thanksgiving dinner that’s meant to be blackly comic and ultimately redemptive, but mostly comes off as ridiculous.
Deadfall does have some points in its favor. Excessive contrivances aside, the film is agreeably lean, and Ruzowitzky has a way with action beats big and small, whether he’s staging a snow-machine chase through the woods or setting up a nifty shot of stolen money flying around a car that’s spinning through the air. But the best parts of Deadfall are absorbed into a scenario that frequently ditches the cat-and-mouse routine and tries instead to be about three dysfunctional families working toward reconciliation. The surfeit of plot and the ponderous themes go from feeling shoehorned in to taking over the film—a sad case of the tail wagging the dog.