Zapreshchennaya realnost Review
Optimum Releasing continue their attempt to bring eclectic fare to the blockbuster fixated world of Blu-ray with the February 22nd release of Russian sc-fi / spy caper ”The Interceptor". Russian cinema is rather in the ascendency at the moment, thanks to the dual assault of Nightwatch and Daywatch. Those two films, by director Timur Berkmanbetov, showed that Russian Cinema could take established genres and refresh them with a kinetic visual style that hadn't been seen before. Now that Berkmanbetov has been swallowed up by the Hollywood machine, it is clear that his influence is still strong back in his homeland.
The Interceptor is directed by Konstantin Maximov and was released in his home country last year. However, the title didn't make it to the cinema in this country, instead coming straight to DVD and Blu-ray. The film is rather a strange hybrid - an almost James Bond type thriller with weird, trippy sci-fi overtones. However, as Berkmanbetov has already shown us, however tired the genre it is possible to kick start it into life - so it was with interest that I inserted the disc into my machine.
I have to say, things start off promisingly. A gritty, crushed image presents itself, and you are immediately thrust into the action - an airliner rushing towards the camera which zooms in through the window to show that there are no pilots. From there we are introduced to our hero, who is on his own in the hold of said vehicle. An explosive beginning shows us that this man is rather a unique individual in terms of his physical attributes. The whole scene is shot extremely well, with the camera moving with imagination and verve and the director throws the viewer straight into the action.
Unfortunately, prior to this scene the audience is shown four screens of words explaining the convoluted background to the film we are about to witness, a confusing ream of text that explains the more supernatural, extra-terrestrial elements of the story. This text ends up just rather confusing the viewer, and really should not be necessary in an action thriller. And this, followed by the opening sequence, sums up the whole film in a nice convenient nutshell.
For “The Interceptor”, when you sit back and analyse it, is a series of incredibly clever and imaginative set pieces, hanging on an incredibly convoluted and confusing story that seems to be doing its best to alienate the audience by being as impenetrable as possible. Normally, at this point I would neatly summarise the plot for you but to be quite honest I find that impossible to do as I simply didn't understand it. There are a bunch of supernatural beings who seem to be intent on bringing chaos to the Earth and our hero (played by Igor Petrenko) is the only one who can stop them. It is difficult to tell whether this confusion is inherent within the film, or a product of subtitles that simply don't do enough to translate accurately what is being said. However, researching the film on the net it seems I am not the only one who had this problem - so there is a flaw here, whatever the reasons for it.
And this is a great shame, because the actual structure of the film is excellent and the direction is superb. I have already mentioned the opening scene, and there are many other set pieces that really stand out. The impressive thing is that the director never overuses any particular technique. One shoot out is shot with beautiful, balletic slow motion underpinning the violence, ending with a particularly impressive scene involving two cars. Another is shot in real time from a news camera - fleeting glimpses of mangled flesh and heavy objects crashing to the ground occurring around the viewer as the camera desperately tries to keep up. The director proves himself adept with both techniques and this helps keep the viewer on their toes, never quite sure what they are going to see next. He also shows talent in more normal scenes, introducing new characters with audacious camera angles and sweeping movements. It is quite plain, from the visual style, why Optimum picked this up for a European release.
But sadly, however well the film is put together, however technically proficient it is - the immensely confusing plot is always going to count against it and it is for this reason that ultimately I cannot recommend this as a blind purchase. The bottom line is that whether we like it or not, a film that is subtitled has to be something truly special in order to break through into the UK market. Nightwatch managed to because it told a story that was accessible and presented it with a bravura visual style, and was an entry into a genre that wasn't well served in the West. Sadly The Interceptor matches the visual style but just confuses the audience narratively. When action thrillers in the West are a staple diet of the average cinema goer, something has to be truly special to stand out, and this film is not going to achieve that. So whereas Optimum releasing should be commended for yet again exposing Blu-ray buyers to more eclectic fare, I strongly suggest that you put this on your rental list first to see whether it impresses.