Jean Reno stars as Milo, the patriarch of a violent Armenian crime family, (the Malakian Clan), who is training his son, Anton, to become his heir. However his son is a more sensitive, caring type of person and wants to go legit, buy a ranch, raise horses and marry his grandmother’s nurse who he’s been seeing secretly behind his father’s back for some time. But as usual, with these kinds of things, nothing ever goes according to plan and things turn into a bloody, sticky mess come the faster paced final act.
The Dead List isn’t your typical Hollywood-styled gangster film and has an almost art house approach to the genre. In fact The Dead List is a bit of a misleading title, more apt perhaps would have been Blood’s Thicker than Water. The pacing is pretty languid for the most part, the music score is minimalist, and the screen is filled with long meaningful glances between the family members, wringing out every last drop of drama from even fairly minor scenes.
As the head of his crime syndicate, the quietly menacing Jean Reno seems to be coasting a little, but is still convincing as someone who is both a family man and a cold-blooded killer, who thinks nothing of shooting a grounds-person in the back, as he does during an early burglary of a mansion or of ordering the death of his son’s girlfriend because she’s complicating things!
Gaspard Ulliel, who plays his son, fairs better, demonstrating a young man tired of being dragged into his father’s criminal world and who now just wants a normal life he can enjoy with the lovely Vahina Giocante, who plays his nurse girlfriend, Elodie. In fact one of the best sequences in the film has our hero realise that his best friend, Rudy (played well by Isaac Sharry), is secretly back in Italy to kill his girlfriend and his attempt to stop this from happening. The tension is built up quite well at this point and the payoff to the scene is fairly powerful.
Throughout, the cinematography is excellent with even the more intimate scenes being well shot and framed. However, I think the choice of locations aid the film enormously, with the good-looking coastal scenery and mountain backdrops of Southern France benefiting the film in spades, almost making the photographer’s job a much easier one.
My main criticisms of the film are that the girlfriend is rather underused, there isn’t really enough action (although the final airport heist is pretty well done), and the police aren’t really given much characterisation, even though they do crop up a fair bit throughout the film’s relatively short running time. In fact, if this film had been directed by John Woo, you can almost guarantee he would have made much more of Inspector Saunier’s obsession to bring Reno’s gang down and probably had a more satisfying face off between the two men.
In a way it’s sad that this film has just gone straight to DVD since it’s very cinematic and I think would have played well in independent cinemas up and down the country. Although it’s in French, and therefore subtitled, I think Jean Reno has developed enough of a fan base in the UK to guarantee this film reasonable success in theatres. It’s a shame that distributors are so blinkered in their treatment of foreign films, such as this one, and rarely give them space in UK cinemas.
If you’re a fan of Jean Reno and of gangster films in general then I’d certainly recommend this flick; it’s better than most of the tosh that’s swilling around cinemas and rental stores at the moment.
Reviewer: Justin Richards
Metrodome have just released The Dead List on DVD so keep a look out for it on the shelves of your local HMV or supermarket. There weren’t any extras on the review disc, but there might be a few on the retail or rental versions.