Set in the grotty world of Liverpools clubland, Dead Man’s Cards is in many respects a traditional British thriller: a picture about hard men doing tough stuff. Drawing its inspiration directly from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking barrels, its representation of Liverpool is of a city controlled by gangsters, drug dealers and gun wielding hoodies.
Tom (James McMartin) is a former amateur boxing champion whose gut is now bigger than his right hook. Down on his luck and out of work he gets a job as a doorman through Paul (Paul Barber), an ex-British serviceman he meets at the local gym. Paul introduces him to the seedy world he’s joined as they man the door at a divey club. Run by “Billy the Cowboy” (Tom Bell), the place is full of people spoiling for a fight.
Tom settles into his new life quickly, and seems to be enjoying roughing up the more terrible parts of a terrible crowd. As his marriage fizzles out he begins a relationship with Mary (Lisa Parry), a cynical, weary barmaid who seems to have a soft spot for him.
But things take a turn for the worse when Chongi (Mark Russell) tries to muscle in on their turf with his own violent security union. Will Tom buckle under the pressure – or stand up for one more fight?
It’s the first time out for James Marquand as the director, and it does show. The pace is jerky, and the characterisation odd and a little unbelievable. However he has a capable enough command of the action scenes, and its relatively short length keeps it from tedium.
James McMartin is decent in the lead role, struggling to find a sense of direction but retaining his sense of passion for a fight. It’s Paul who carries the piece though, totally believable as the tough bouncer youre always slightly wary of, slugging people and dragging them out back. Refreshingly, he just hints at his violent past and troubled home life – leaving us to guess what really boils away beneath the surface. Tom Bell gives a lovely turn as the drunken, anachronistic Billy the Cowboy. But they’re let down by some very weak support. Kickboxing champ Mark Russell in particular is as wooden as they come, confusingly not even allowed to show off his sporting skills.
This thriller may be up your street if you want an antidote to the more schmaltzy fare this season has to offer. But at the same time, it’s no classic.