Tuesday, December 16, 2014

“Leviathan”– Movie Review



This week, The New York Times Film Club held a screening of the new Russian drama “Leviathan”. 


After a man fights his town’s mayor in order to keep his property, will he and his family suffer the consequences by paying with their life? 


Kolya lives in a small fishing community in northern Russia with his young wife Lilya and his teenage son Roma.  Scraping by with Kolya working as a mechanic and Lilya employed at a neighboring factory, they live in a ramshackle cabin coveted by the town’s corrupt mayor – although the house itself is worthless, the land on which it sits is quite valuable and the mayor wishes to possess it so that he can rebuild.  However, Kolya has other plans and wishes to keep the property for himself and his family; taking the mayor to court over the matter, he winds up losing and he and his family are forced to relocate. 

It is at this point that Dmitriy, Kolya’s old friend, comes to the rescue; now working as a high-powered lawyer in Moscow, Dmitriy takes up Kolya’s case and uncovers some startling information about the mayor.  Meeting with the mayor, Dmitriy tells him everything he knows and sets out on a course of blackmail:  if the mayor stops his efforts to take over Kolya’s land and in addition gives him 3.5 million rubles to purchase the parcel for himself, Dmitriy will promise not to reveal to the media what he knows about the mayor.  Fearing scandal and loss of an upcoming election should the information be released, the mayor acquiesces to Dmitriy’s demands. 

Just as Kolya thinks his life is finally turning around, more misery comes his way when he learns that Lilya has been cheating on him with Dmitriy; when Kolya confronts Dmitriy about this, they fight and their friendship is effectively ended.  Soon after, Dmitriy meets with the mayor to discuss the settlement, but the mayor deceives him; Dmitriy is kidnapped by some thugs who severely beat him and threaten his life.  Between this and the rift with Kolya, Dmitriy wisely decides that now would be a good time to hightail it out of town, so he heads back to Moscow – the upshot being that now Kolya and his family must vacate the premises.  But with an unfaithful Lilya forced to remain with her husband, neither are terribly crazy about the idea of staying together.  One day, Lilya turns up missing and several days later, is found dead.  With Kolya being the prime suspect, will he be able to prove his innocence in her death or will he be found guilty and be subjected to a long prison sentence?


This past spring, “Leviathan” won for Best Screenplay at The Cannes Film Festival and now finds itself poised to be among the nominees for Best Foreign Language Film in the upcoming Academy Awards; for what it’s worth, it also has the rare 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.  That said, this overly long movie (two and a quarter hours) is all over the place in terms of its story; the Sybil of motion pictures, it doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be a political thriller, domestic drama or murder mystery.  Perhaps if it picked just one of these and focused on it, the film would’ve been less convoluted.  Instead, “Leviathan” is muddled despite its intentions to indict Communism (and Putin in particular) and that it is beautifully photographed (Russia never looked so appealing). 

“Leviathan” is aptly titled as it’s this immense creature that is rendered unwieldy due to its size.  Although helmed by an acclaimed director (Andrey Zvyagintsev, a one-time Golden Globe nominee), it misfires in many different directions.  A convoluted entanglement of multiple issues – none of which it can appear to firmly grasp – “Leviathan” is something of a grab-bag of different genres, as if the filmmakers wanted to make a bunch of various movies and decided to combine them all into one.  As ill-advised as that may sound, most critics are likely giving this a vote of confidence because it’s a Russian-made film that dares to blatantly condemn its own government.

In retrospect, expanding on any one of the themes touched on in “Leviathan” to make a feature length motion picture would have made for a more interesting and entertaining movie.  As it is, however, the audience is presented with a buffet of stories and pretty pictures and offered to take whichever you like and leave the rest aside.  While such an idea may work in a cafeteria, it hardly makes for a cohesive, satisfying movie.  The seaside landscape in “Leviathan” is littered with the carcasses of dead whales; perhaps this is intended as a metaphor for the ideas in this film that didn’t quite survive.   


Leviathan (2014) on IMDb

No comments:

Post a Comment

Speak Your Piece, Beeyotch!