Jean Reno: the coolest man with facial hair alive. Except in The Dead List (AKA Inside Ring, 2009), he has no beard. He’s beardless. It doesn’t sound like a big thing, but like the film itself, Jean sans stubble doesn’t quite feel right. The intensity’s there, the style is there, the subtitles are there – but things don’t get hairy until the final few minutes, which makes Laurent Tuel’s gangster film a little bit of a let down.
It’s not rubbish by any means. Following the Malakian crime family as they carry out ultimate heists (yes, that was the film’s original title), The Dead List is a competent and intriguing thriller. The film’s new title bears no relation to anything that happens in the film (there’s no list of dead people anywhere in sight), but it was almost called Inside Ring, so we should probably just be grateful that it’s more intelligent than either name suggests. Indeed, there are barely any explosions, as Tuel focuses on the relationship between mafia patriarch Milo (Reno) and his son, Anton (Gaspard Ulliel).
The pair make a believable father-son duo, adding weight to the familiar formula of a wayward son inheriting his dad’s organised crime syndicate. Ulliel’s conflicted heir even sells his romance with Elodie (Vahina Giaconte). Neither has to say much to generate screen presence (Reno oozes cool even in his sleep), which is fortunate given some of the dialogue on offer: “Doctor, is my mother better?” asks Reno, revealing his caring side. “I’m a nurse” comes the reply. Reno looks serious and practically stares at the camera – “I only care about results.”
But while there are some clangers, and the policemen chasing the Malakians don’t leave much of an impression, the superb lighting and use of landscapes create a stylish and crisply shot movie, which earns bonus points for trying to stay centred on its characters. The action, when it arrives, is solid and tense, and the performances stop things from being laughably awful. It’s just not quite grisly enough to be anything better than good. The Dead List is clean and likeable, but it needs more facial hair.