Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Drama, Foreign
Run Time: 2 hours 20 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Aleksey Serebryakov, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Elena Lyadova, Roman Madyanov
Co-Written & Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev (Elena, The Banishment, The Return)
Leviathan (opening today) is a powerful, well-written drama that was just recently nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It comes to us from Russia, and it's no surprise that the film was included as one of the best international entries this year.
Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov) is a hot-headed mechanic who lives with his wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova) and his young son from a previous marriage, Roma (Sergey Pokhodaev), in Russia. Their home sits alone on the side of a cliff overlooking a beautiful stretch of sea, which is shown to us in splendid fashion with several scenic shots of the stunning but desolate landscape in the beginning of the film. It's no surprise then, to learn that the town's mayor, the stout and stoic crook Vadim Shelevyat (Roman Madyanov), has been trying to force Kolya and his family from the property, eying the location for a development deal. Vadim has offered Kolya a laughable settlement sum and Kolya has no intention to sell.
So Kolya calls in his incredibly close lawyer friend from Moscow, Dmitriy (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), to help him get out of his predicament. Dmitriy is a slick, confident man who, oh yeah, is also having an affair with Lilya. Dmitriy digs up some dirt on Mayor Vadim and blackmails him, telling him that his deepest, darkest secrets will be revealed to the public unless he gives Kolya an incredibly large sum of money.
Like a Leviathan in stories and in the Bible, Kolya is staring this immovable beast in the face...the beast being the machinations of government and those in power. There are some biblical undertones to the film that implies as much, like when Vadim visits his priest shortly after being blackmailed, and the priest preaches to him about "power" and God-given might.
The movie though, has a pulpy feel to it. Everyone is crooked, everyone has a crutch that they lean on. What begins as a story about a land deal evolves into something much more. I'll end the plot details there.
The entire ensemble helps raise the bar, but the script flows naturally and even includes several bits of sharp, humorous exchanges that add some much-needed levity to the grim situation at hand. The middle of the film becomes a bit too slow and deliberate, but from the beginning to the end of Leviathan, the on-screen drama is always engaging.
It may not be intended, but I couldn't help but take the film as a cautionary metaphor about infidelity as well. Bad things happen to those that don't honor thy family, and there are more powerful forces in the world than one's own bravery or determination. The whale will swallow you whole if you challenge it, or sometimes even when you're treading water, trying to stay afloat in a sea of despair.
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