Criminals on the Run in “Deadfall”

Wilde Deadfall
Liza post casino heist, prior to the car accident

The crime genre is broken into subgenres. There’s the caper/heist story, the detective/investigator mystery, and the  gangster/mobster epic. However, my personal favorite is “the getaway”. The story of usually two criminals, either linked by blood or by love, on the run and using whatever means necessary to elude capture. Deadfall is the latest crime film to fall into this subgenre, amongst the ranks of Bonnie and Clyde (1967), The Getaway (1972 & 1994), and Badlands (1973) to name only a few. It’s a simple story, one that wipes away any romantic notions of what it is to be a criminal on the run.

We begin immediately on the action. The filmmakers do not bother to show us the heist, but rather the aftermath of the heist, as the criminals are escaping on an icy road in rural Michigan. But no casino heist ever goes as planned, and their automobile careens off the road after striking a deer. Then, who’s to arrive on the scene, but a patrol officer. Seeing the over turned car, the officer climbs the snow bank to provide help, but a bullet to the forehead stops the officer dead and now armed robbery has turned into murder. And so, the brother and sister criminal duo must endure the freezing northern cold and try to reach salvation across the Canadian border. They split ways, and the journey that each takes before they rendezvous at the home of two unfortunate souls is a tiring one.

Bana-McQueen
Eric Bana on the run in Deadfall & Steve McQueen on the run in The Getaway

Addison, the brother (played by Eric Bana), sets off on foot, marching through a blizzard. He’s a man on the run. If he’s caught, he’ll spend the remainder of his life rotting away in a jail cell, so that doesn’t leave much choice other than escape by any means possible. He’s not a psychopath, nor a sociopath, just a man that wants to be free. I can admire that. There’s a romantic notion inside of me that wants to roam without a care for civilization, surviving upon my most basest of instincts and doing what needs to be done in order to live, that’s probably why this genre of crime interests me. Addison is the same. He doesn’t want to kill, but he will kill if he’s forced to. He’s a conflicted anti-hero: he’s not good, but he’s not all bad either. Steve McQueen’s character Doc, in Sam Peckinpah’s The Getaway, is the same. The only difference is that we never see Doc kill an innocent. But in order to have survived as long as Doc has as a criminal, I’m sure that somewhere along the way he did. (Try reading Jim Thompson’s novel that inspired the movie and you’ll learn that Doc is indeed a cold blooded bastard).

Liza, the sister (played by Olivia Wilde), is new to the game. This was her first job. I imagine that she was introduced to the life by her older brother, but that’s all in the back story, not shown on the screen. She sets off in the snow storm and is immediately picked up by an ex-boxer (played by Charlie Hunnam), who’s down-on-his-luck and fleeing from the law as well, back to his parents home for Thanksgiving. Liza uses the opportunity as a means of escape and she contacts her brother to let him know where she is heading. The only problem though, she didn’t expect to develop feelings for the loser. While Addison has to murder in order to evade capture, Liza must seduce her way to the border and fight off these feelings she’s developed for the guy.

The idea of love blossoming out of something so violent sounds kinda warm and cuddly, doesn’t it? I know that we’d like everything to end with a nice pink ribbon tied atop it, but unfortunately this is a crime story, and ever since the MPAA issued ratings to films back in 1934, all crime stories must end with criminals receiving their just dues and the moral of the story to be: “Crime does not pay”. So, how does it end? Well, simple really: all parties converge upon one household for Thanksgiving and then… I’m sorry, but you’ll have to go see it to find out.

Kate Mara
Kate Mara as Officer Becker

Another great character is that of Officer Hanna Becker (played by Kate Mara), the daughter of Sheriff Becker, and the only female officer in this rural upstate part of Michigan. She’s strong willed, but emotionally weak, and a disappointment to her father because she’s a girl. She’s just been accepted to the FBI’s academy, it’s an opportunity to escape this freezing den of machismo, but she’s worried about leaving her father alone. Her father may be a crude son-of-a-bitch, but she still loves him. She may have a career with the FBI behind the safety of a desk, but certainly not in the field, where danger can surprise an officer even during the most mundane procedure, such as delivering a message to a family during Thanksgiving, where our criminals are hiding out. By the end of the story we don’t know if she remains a sheriff’s deputy, leaves for the FBI academy, or finds a new line of work. I think it’s best if she chooses the latter.

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