Dead Man Running

Dead Man Running


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Dead Man Running is a cockney gangster flick, in the same vein as Lock, Stock and all that. The area mined by it, and others, is certainly seamy, but it is starting to feel played out. It's not bad, but it does feel a tad generic - not just cut from the same cloth of Ritchie-esque caper films but measured off the bolt and sold by weight.

It's got all the key features: not just the cheeky chappy sidekick, reformed ex-con, tart with a heart, comedic encounter with habitual drug users, moral dilemma, and happy-if-incomprehensible ending... Industry stuff kicks in too. Celebrity producers in Rio Ferdinand and Ashley Cole, rap star Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson is the villain, there's the mix of reverence for classic films and celebrities from other arenas. It is also somewhat pedestrian, predicated on decisions that appear ludicrous, and its smartest observation might well be an accident.

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The plot is, on the face of it, simple. Nick, played by former boxer Tamer Hassan, is an ex-con who owes his loan shark 100 grand. Said loan shark, a Mr Thigo, is suffering under the credit crunch. As he explains, the reduction in city bonuses is affecting prostitution and drug-dealing, and "who ends up suffering? Shylock." So Thigo, played by 50, decides to send a message - if Nick, four months late on his payments already, doesn't pay him in full within 24 hours, he's going to be killed. Of course, the message won't really work if Nick is successful, so Thigo intends to ensure that he fails.

After a noisy opening sequence culminating in bloodied £50 notes, with Thigo repeatedly seen reading The Economist, even with go-to henchman Tricky there to prompt exposition, the grasp of the business of loan sharking seems a little shaky. Ignoring the fact that the economic downturn and attendant unwillingness to extend credit has, by all accounts, been good for unconventional financiers, it doesn't seem wise to jump straight to murder. Throw in the gunman to watch his mother (Brenda Blethyn, who is more lovely than the film deserves), thugs to track and harass Nick as he scrambles to pull together the money, and a rumour put round the underworld that Thigo doesn't actually want to be paid, but to kill Nick to send a message, and it starts to seem like Thigo's got no head for business.

There are other jarring notes - Nick is offered work as a hitman, which leads to a moral dilemma of course. While he's wrestling with whether to take a life to save that of his mother and his own, he negotiates a rate of £65,000 for a hit. Even with a grasp of criminality derived entirely from films and news reports, that seems a little high. That's not the only part of the enterprise that doesn't add-up.

The hundred grand Nick borrowed was intended to look after his mother and girlfriend for the three and a half years he spent in prison. His girlfriend, played by director Alex de Rakoff's wife, Monet Mazur, works as a dominatrix - she was clearly good at it, managing to earn £5,000 towards Nick's "not dying" fund in a day, but also decides to assist him by drugging and robbing one of her clients. It's not the only financial decision that seems not just short-sighted, but born of a mixture of panic and optimism, but it's indicative. It's also just about the closest the film comes to satire, save for one thing; the business Nick starts when he tries to go straight is a tour company, selling ski holidays in Dubai.

With a plot emerging from what appears to be a hazy if not completely incorrect understanding of finance, legal or otherwise, the film's origins are similarly confused. Producer Nicholas 'Pikki' Fearon is a former kick-boxer who must now use a wheelchair, and who with star Tamer Hassan secured two premiership footballers as producers, which enabled them to hire writer/director Alex De Rakoff. De Rakoff's only other film is Orlando Bloom boxing picture The Calcium Kid, and he's confident enough, managing to extract decent performances from all involved.

As Nick's sidekick 'Bing' Danny Dyer isn't totally insufferable, even if it remains somewhat of a mystery why he gets so much work. He seems to be a lovely fellow from his various media appearances, but as with his cameo in Adulthood one is left somewhat confused by his status as a celebrity. Jackson isn't bad, though his performance is largely defined by his narrow spectacles, and it has to be said that Tricky had a much better boss to hench for in The Fifth Element. Fifty-Cent's got a song on the soundtrack, but Tricky doesn't, which probably says more about their abilities as an actor rather than their relative musical prowess. The soundtrack isn't bad, though in general it appears mixed too loud - it's possible that this is because audiences expect it from this sort of picture, but one suspects that like the frequency with which Nick restates his goal and progress towards it it's designed to help audiences watching it on the upper reaches of cable and satellite or as a post-pub DVD keep track of what's happening.

It's a bit of a shame that from its genesis as a part of British Crime, the Cockney gangster flick has become a genre of its own. It's not really deep enough, in any sense, to survive the frequency with which filmmakers visit it. Like the recent spate of hooligan nostalgia pictures, it raises uncomfortable questions without, it seems, intending to, and certainly without addressing them directly. If it weren't for the relative celebrity of those involved, Dead Man Running would probably disappear. There's a reference to The Godfather when Thigo asks Nick to accept that his actions were "just business", but what Coppola probably intended as a criticism of capitalism is here just a reminder that everything seen here has been done elsewhere, and usually better.

As a film it's entertaining enough - it has got a couple of fights, a "comedy" moment involving uncertainty as to whether a person is Scottish, some toffs running a rave, an attractive young lady in a rubber dress, not one but two scenes in a strip club and another sequence in a burlesque venue. Nick's not a bad guy, trying to reform, like the Krays he seems to love his mum, and for many that'll be enough. If what you're after is another roll of cockney gangster flick run off the mill, Dead Man Running suffices. That it's not so well stitched together, indeed, full of holes, and badly finished might well be neither here nor there.

Reviewed on: 29 Oct 2009
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Dead Man Running packshot
An ex-con goes on a desperate hunt for money to pay back a loan shark who is holding his mother hostage.
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Director: Alex de Rakoff

Writer: Alex de Rakoff

Starring: Danny Dyer, Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson, Tamer Hassan, Monet Mazur, Brenda Blethyn

Year: 2009

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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