DVD The Dead List
Written and directed by Laurent Tuel, The Dead List is a French-language film that has seen a great deal of name changes; formerly known as Riviera, Ultimate Heist and Inside Ring. Its mob family storyline is a significant departure from Tuel’s first and only other directorial foray, Jean-Phillipe, and he is proving himself to be an intuitive and promising director.
The Malakian clan, descended from Armenian refugees, are a family of gangsters that control the underworld of Southern France. Led by iron fisted Milo Malakian (Jean Reno), the gang make plans to increase their criminal practices from car theft to full scale robbery. Milo’s son, Anton (Gaspard Ulliel), dreams of his own life with his escort girlfriend, Elodie (Vahina Giocante), but when he fails to kill an onlooker during a villa break-in, Milo starts to doubt his commitment.
Meanwhile, Inspector Saunier (Sami Bouajila) suspects the Malakians are behind the robbery but has no way to proof. He sets up surveillance of the family and confronts Elodie, telling her about Anton’s criminal connections. Anton gives up his place in the mob and takes Elodie to Italy, accompanied by fellow gangster Rudy (Isaac Sharry). When Milo instructs Rudy to kill Elodie and bring Anton back, Anton agrees to one last heist in order to win his freedom from Milo and the family…
It’s no secret that Reno has undertaken some questionable roles in his acting career; 1998′s Godzilla and 2009′s Couples Retreat, to name just two. In The Dead List he has returned to old form with his powerful portrayal of Milo. His take on a mob godfather is far more subtle than other modern examples, and the relationship he builds with on screen son Ulliel is believably rendered. While all the film’s actors are perfectly capable, it’s only Reno and Ulliel that really stand out. Though the performances of Bouajila and Giocante, as inspector and escort respectively, can’t exactly be faulted, they are just two dimensional and a little bland.
The cinematography is really where this film shines.
This film is extremely economical. There are no scenes wasted on unnecessary character development, and the dialogue is realistic and utterly engaging. When it comes to mob films, there’s always a risk that the storyline will devolve into mass shoot-outs or betrayal, but The Dead List manages to address the usual plot devices in a refreshing way. Anton may be the classic mob son yearning for a simpler life, but the tension involved in his decision is mesmerising. This may not sound like anything new, but, on reflection, there’s a lot under the surface – most enjoyable is The Dead List’s ability to elicit real crime techniques and ambience while giving the audience a stunning travelogue of Southern France and Italy.
The cinematography is really where this film shines. It’s easy to make the setting of rural France look beautiful, but it’s the contrasting interior scenes that make the landscape appear so idyllic. The lighting and angles of the shots inside the police station are drastically muted when compared to those outside, and this creates a lovely visual aid between the ideas of crime and the law. The robbery of the villa is a particularly well shot scene that captures both the violence of crime and the beatific surrounds in which it can occur.
The film’s only sticking point is its dealing with history and ancestry. The film opens with old footage of Armenian refugees entering France after the Turkish onslaught, and a voiceover informs the audience that while most Armenian families sacrificed and worked hard to build their lives, others turned to crime. Thus the Malakian family is introduced as the descendants of Armenian settlers, but after this reference, there is no other mention. This begs the question, why bring up such an enormous historical and moral period of history without exploring it more within the plot and relationships of the characters?
The Dead List is a terrific mob film that takes the usual strands of story and subtly moulds them into something fresh and unexplored. Reno and Ulliel are the two to watch as their portrayals of boss father and rebelling son are emotionally perceptive and complete. The film is a visual joy that saturates the viewer with gorgeous scenery while balancing the mood with the darker aspects of mob crime, and though the history of the family is a little patchy, it doesn’t come close to bringing down the honesty of the film as a whole.
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