A hitman named Charles has finally taken out his 100th victim and has decided to retire. But what ought to be the golden end to an illustrious and highly successful career becomes a bit more problematic than one might suspect. This particular hitman has made a career of "stealing" hits from others, so he has plenty of enemies that won’t let him retire. He takes it upon himself to visit each one so he can announce his retirement and bury the hatchet, so to speak. Of course, they aren’t quite as keen to let bygones be bygones as is Charles. Meanwhile, Charles has hired a cleaning lady on the pretenses of cleaning his house, but in reality he is looking for someone to retire with, someone with a sense of adventure who will share his dream of sailing around the world. He is immediately smitten by Lisa, a pretty girl with a blue collar attitude and other ample assets as well. The only problem is that hitmen, by nature, are a solitary lot and can sometimes find it difficult to forge new relationships, much less maintain those relationships. Charles is no different. He has led a completely solitary–and celibate–life, not just because of his line of work but also because he is germophobic. Heck, he’s never even kissed a woman because of his fear of germs.
Charles leaves Lisa in charge of cleaning while he goes in search of his old enemies to announce his eminent retirement. Lisa, meanwhile, starts working her scam. In reality, she’s not a cleaning lady. She and her punk rock boyfriend are true scam artists. Lisa fakes the cleaning lady routine and once the rich family is out of the house for the day, she then invites people in to view her lovely house which happens to be up for rent. By the time she’s done for the day, she has not only cleaned the house, but she’s cleaned out the real owners as well as the people who think they are renting the place. One can only imagine the scene as the owners face an excited family, moving van in tow, descending upon their home.
Then there are the other killers who don’t take too kindly to Charles’ planned exit, and who want a measure of revenge for his thievery over the years. There’s David Cross, the senior hitman, who’s new wife is killed by Charles because she is, in acutality, a spy who has infiltrated the organization. He’s humiliated and angered by Charles’ actions and seeks permission from the secretive big boss to perform Charles’ execution himself. Also, there is angry and mean-spirited Clancy, a beautiful lesbian killer without a shred of remorse for anyone. She’s not about to let Charles go sailing into the sunset and sets out in search of him as soon as she gets his phone call.
Finally, there is the brother duo of scam artists that steal Charles’ savings from his car. This money was intended to purchase a yacht with which Charles can retire to, and sail away from his old life, both figuratively and literally. As one might imagine, he’s not too happy with the idiot brothers and goes in pursuit.
As each of these characters, some intentionally and some accidentally, converge on Charles’ house, the excitement mounts in anticipation of Charles’ arrival back home on the Ivory Coast of France.
Dead in France is a low budget yet stylish, black-and-white neo-noir, billed as part Tarantino and part Guy Ritchie. While I’m not yet ready to make those comparisons, it is easy to see the influence of these two successful directors in writer/director Kris McManus’ film. Each character is introduced with a freeze frame and title card: "The Hitman"; "The Cleaner"; "The Competition"; et cetera, similar to what Ritchie has done before. And the somewhat complicated storyline has various strands that seemingly aren’t connected until the very end when they all converge, similar to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. And of course, the gangster theme is common to both Tarantino and Ritchie. While Dead in France doesn’t quite rank with the best of these directors’ films, it does stand well on its own as a stylish and funny take on the gangster life. The story is unique enough within the genre and written quite well, so it will hold the viewer’s attention. The acting is quite solid. Especially funny is the attractive Celia Muir, who stars as Lisa, the cleaning lady. Along with her tattooed, leather-clad, and mohawked boyfriend, Denny (Darren Bransford), the couple are both energetic and hilarious as they shag (hey, it’s a British film, so you have to use the correct slang) in every area of the house before working their scam. Kate Loustau as the cold-hearted female killer Clancy is mean enough I wouldn’t want to run into her, even on a sunny sidewalk in the south of France, much less a dark alley. She is realistic and scary.
There are plenty of killshots with blood spraying and heads exploding, but most are done at medium distance, so it’s not a gross-out for those viewers with weak stomachs. These effects are all digitally enhanced which is my one major quibble with the film. While the medium shots look nice, there are two or three closeup gunshot wounds that are clearly digitized and take the viewer out of the film. Aside from this small criticism, though, the film is typically does not show its low budget.
Along with cowriting (with costar Brian Levine) and directing, McManus also lensed and edited the film, showing his talents in each of these areas. The French countryside is gorgeous and some of my favorite scenes are of the seaside highway, high upon the cliffs. Production quality is high throughout the film.
So, while it may not win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Dead in France is a clever and entertaining film that is well worth a look. Dead in France is being released March 26 by Breaking Glass Pictures. For more information, click right here.