Sunday, February 16, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Night Watch (2004) ***½

R, 114 min.
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Writers: Timur Bekmambetov, Laeta Kalogridis, Sergey Lukyanenko (novel)
Starring: Konstantin Khabenskiy, Vladimir Menshov, Valeriy Zolotukhin, Mariyna Poroshina, Galina Tyunina, Gosha Kutsenko, Aleksy Chadov, Zhanna Friske, Viktor Verzhbitskiy, Rimma Markova

“Night Watch” introduced a new style of action and fantasy filmmaking with its adaptation of the popular Russian vampire novel of the same name. For many Americans it was the introduction to the unique filmmaking style of Timur Bekmambetov, the Russian director responsible for the American movies “Wanted” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. These movies seem to have involved a little more campiness than his Russian made films. That has rubbed some American audiences the wrong way, but the essence of Bekmambetov’s approach to action has remained the same since “Night Watch”.

When I added this film to my Sochi-inspired film festival during this year’s Winter Olympics, I wasn’t sure I’d like as much as I did the first time. This film came pretty early on in the recent trend of turning classic monsters into superheroes instead of analogies for the baser natures of the human condition. This is a trend that has come to annoy me as a filmgoer and storyteller, so I wasn’t sure I’d still be a fan of this entry.

Bekmambetov still handles his universe and mythology with enough mystery and reverence for these creatures to work on an allegorical level. The story works as a reflection of the environmental struggle we face as the world human culture. Our technological advances can help us to study and affect the environment in a positive way while our continuing industrialization further damages the environment. Much like the battle between the light and the dark in this film, we must find a balance that allows us to continue while the darker forces threaten to destroy everything.

Huh? I thought this was a vampire movie. Rarely has the mythology of these creatures been approached from such a unique perspective. I’m not sure vampires is even the proper way to categorize the creatures in this movie. The hero skirts a delicate balance of his own and the film’s final twist is an example of just how delicate that line can be.

The movie is exciting and the action is unique, but it isn’t overdone as it is at points in Bekmambetov’s American films. It’s a good introduction to this unique director. Seeing it makes it easier to digest his American features. It would be nice to see him return to material that has been contemplated as well as this movie has. Perhaps he will return to this series and finish what he started some day. “Day Watch” is the second film in the series, and I will take a look back at that one too. The book series had three more entries, however. Maybe we’ll see a “Twilight Watch” someday.

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