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October 2011

The Dead List

cast: Jean Reno, Gaspard Ulliel, Vahina Giocante, Sami Bouajila, and Isaac Sharry

director: Laurent Tuel

95 minutes (15) 2009
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Metrodome DVD Region 2
[released 10 October]

RATING: 7/10
review by Christopher Geary

Ultimate Heist

The Dead List

Very much in the tradition of The Godfather, and yet thoroughly modernised for 21st century audiences, this crime thriller about the French mafia concerns the Malakian clan, led by Milo (the great Jean Reno, star of 22 Bullets, The Crimson Rivers, Empire Of The Wolves and, of course, Léon), who's quietly spoken but prone to cold-blooded violence. The Malakians operate in the south of the country, where the cops are fronted by Saunier (played by Sami Bouajila, who acted alongside Samy Naceri in both Rachid Bouchareb's WW2 film Days Of Glory, and Florent Emilio Siri's The Nest, has also appeared with Bellucci and Deneuve in Guillaume Nicloux's The Stone Council, and might be remembered from Edward Zwick's The Siege), who runs a squad dedicated to investigating the gangsters but is, like many obsessive detectives in the movies, hampered by his politically-minded superiors and by the constraints of bureaucracy.

In between car-jacking exploits (a witty theft which opens the film), and the burglary of a villa, which produces a haul of paintings and antiques, the Malakians manoeuvre around police surveillance, outwitting the generally competent Saunier at every turn. Milo wants his son Anton (Gaspard Ulliel, who played Lecter in Hannibal Rising, and co-starred opposite Audrey Tautou in A Very Long Engagement) to be heir apparent, ready to takeover his father's villainous business, but reluctant crook Anton is keen to settle down with his girlfriend, Elodie (Vahina Giocante, who played a spy recruit in Philippe Haïm's Secret défense), who works as private nurse caring for the elderly, and his Anton's big - unaffordable - dream is to go fully legit and buy a ranch hotel.

The Dead List, originally titled Inside Ring (aka: Le premier cercle), and released in the US in a dubbed version as Ultimate Heist, is mainly a character-based drama, not a large-scale action movie. Its primary style is one that's fairly realistic instead of being totally overblown like so many Hollywood genre thrillers. Perhaps, its nearest cousin in American gangster classics is Michael Mann's Heat (1995), but The Dead List lacks that drama's intense rivalry on opposite sides of the law. Where The Dead List does follow the basic pattern of Heat, is found in a steady and superbly well-paced build-up of tensions within the Malakian clan shortly before Milo leads his men on one last job, a daylight robbery at a coastal airport which is planned in detail to make the armed gang all euro-millionaires.

It's the lengthy action sequence of this climactic heist - in fact, David Mamet's drama, Heist (2001), is another likely influence - which makes The Dead List so exhilarating as a suspenseful gangster cinema, with its fierce shootout on the runway as Milo's plans start going wrong, and a speedy getaway via zodiac boats. Director Laurent Tuel previously made fantasy horror Children's Play (aka: Un jeu d'enfants, 2001), and the comedy about a rock star, Jean-Philippe (2006) - starring Johnny Hallyday. Tuel seems to be enjoying a filmmaking career in diverse genres, but The Dead List is a welcome addition to the recent and current batch of French crime dramas, including twinned bio-pics of Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy No.1, plus works that are as vastly differing in their ambitions or settings as Alain Corneau's period piece The Second Wind, Olivier Marchal's policier MR 73, and Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale (2002).



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