The Dead List, (a.k.a. Ultimate Heist, a.k.a. Inside Ring), 2009.
Directed by Laurent Tuel.
Starring Jean Reno, Gaspard Ulliel, Sami Bouajila and Vahina Giocante.
The son of a gangster looks to escape the family business as rival mobsters and federal agents close in on his father’s empire.
Jean Reno will forever be known for his star turn as the titular assassin in Leon (The Professional), the brilliant Luc Besson film that launched Reno into Hollywood. Since then he’s never quite hit those heights again, but whenever he appears in something, he’s reliable. At the same time, Reno manages to divide his career between American productions as well as maintaining a steady career in French cinema. The Dead List is one of Reno’s recent additions to his French cinematic CV. So is he close to knocking Leon off the throne as king of his achievements? Well, no.
The Dead List (the title makes no sense at all, and doesn’t fit with the films plot in any way), is an efficiently made thriller. The Malakian family are French Armenian gangsters who ply their trade in the south of France. Father Milo (Reno) wants his son Anton (Gaspard Ulliel) to inherit the family business. Anton however grows weary of the life of crime and wants to set up a legit hotel business of his own with his girlfriend Elodie (Vahina Giaconte). Unfortunately things are never easy and Anton needs money to break free from his father, but Milo is unwilling to see his son retreat from his destiny. All the while, the determined cop Inspector Saunier (Sami Bouajila) is closing in on the Malakians. The plot never really threatens to surprise, but it keeps moving at a steady pace.
The cast are good, helping to elevate what could easily have been rote and uninspiring. Reno as ever is solid, even if he’s not really anywhere near his best. Still, he adds star power to the proceedings. Ulliel is okay, but it’s Giaconte and Bouajila who stand out here. As it is, given the plot, this film probably has a straight-to-video American duplicate somewhere, which probably doesn’t have a cast anywhere near as good. I could see Dean Cain headlining perhaps, in something shot cheaply in Eastern Europe. Maybe bad dialogue just sounds better in French, I don’t know, but in any case, the actors are committed to their characters and despite so much familiarity in the subject, it doesn’t feel churned out like an American counterpart may have done.
There’s not much action in the film, even though it might be suggested from the promotional material (and strange title) for the UK-US viewers, that this is going to be something akin to Leon 2: Clusterfuck. However the brief set pieces are pretty well done. There’s nothing too elaborate as budget would clearly not allow it, but the film’s strength lies more in trying to build tension between father and son before the inevitable clash and resolution.
Fans of Reno will enjoy the film, without being blown away, whilst for others it will probably be passable. There just isn’t enough in the film to differentiate it from dozens of other crime thrillers, especially as the action orientated parts, like the heist itself, play second fiddle to somewhat formulaic characterisation. This could have been a lot better, but conversely, much worse.
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