Movie Review: Night Watch / Nochnoy Dozor
The great battle between good and evil has been done. Done to death, really. We’ve seen a million movies come and go that, while entertaining, don’t really offer up anything very new.
But then you have a movie like 2004’s Night Watch, which takes you for a slightly different ride. Though I had a very vague sense of the good vs. evil nature of the plot, I have to say I was a little surprised by some of the things they did with it.
Fair warning, though: this movie is based on a series of Russian novels and was Russia’s first Hollywood-style film with a big budget and special effects. That means that if you can’t handle subtitles, you may be SOL.
The story begins in medieval times (the era, not the restaurant) with two armies meeting each other on a bridge.
Each army consists of Others, or beings with supernatural abilities. Others seem otherwise human until faced with a situation that calls forth their powers. At this point, they are forced to choose either the Light or the Dark. On the bridge the two sides face off in a fantastic battle resulting in the deaths of many members of both sides.
To preserve the future of Others, the lord of the Light, Geser, meets with the lord of the Dark, Zavulon, and the two arrange a treaty that will allow them to co-exist in the world.
As you can imagine, both parties are never fully satisfied with the system as we can see when the story picks back up in Moscow in 1992. The Treaty requires either side to be licensed by the other to practice their powers in the human world.
Not to give too much away, we fast forward ahead again, this time twelve years and the story picks up.
The story from here on out follows Anton Gorodetsky (above), a Light Other, as he works out a mystery that could have dire consequences for the entire world.
At the same time, he has to ask himself some tough questions about the nature of good and evil and whether it really applies to Light and Dark Others.
Well, How Is It?
Well there are good things and bad things, as with all movies. Ultimately, I really liked it. One thing they did to keep the audience from getting distracted was to add interactivity with the subtitles. This means that at certain times throughout the movie, someone might pass by the subtitles and wipe them out, or if they’re watching a show the subtitles only appear on the television. Or one of my favorites:
While the kid is underwater, the subtitles appear normal, but as the camera follows up, the letters dissolve with the foam. Very cool stuff, and a great way to keep people from having wandering eyes.
The writing is fantastic and the acting is all superb. This is sometimes hard to tell with foreign films because you don’t know exactly when they’re emoting and emphasizing which words. The director did a great job of adding impact to what the characters were saying by pulling in very tight shots with several indoor scenes. With little room to move around, the actors would have to be very careful about intonation, volume, and precision. I don’t think there was a person in the cast that I didn’t think was believable.
I also really loved the visual style of the movie, which occasionally reminded me of Blade Runner for some reason, especially at the end.
Thematically, the movie brings a lot of interesting things to the table. The questions Anton asks himself are the same ones audience members will be asking. What is good? What is bad? Who gets to decided which is which? Nothing is black and white in this movie, which I think helps to drive home the complexity of the world the characters inhabit.
There is some gore present in the movie, and one or two things that might make you cringe, but this is far from a cheesy horror flick. I would say if anything, it’s kind of like Underworld for grown-ups.
The only major problem I have is that sometimes the details or events can be hard to follow. I’ve never ever wanted to read the book after I saw the movie, but this is one of those rare cases where I actually would. You might ask yourself questions like why does Anton seem drunk all the time, is he a vampire, what are the crystals, etc. but are never really given a clear answer.
Still the movie is a very interesting piece and well worth your time if you’re into fantasy horror, adventure, or just a break from the norm. It’s streaming free on Netflix right now, which is where I saw it. If you want the DVD or Blu Ray, do some research first as there are multiple versions available and they’re all different.
I’ll leave you with a fun fact. At the beginning of the review I mentioned Russia wanted to make a big-budget Hollywood film, which I think they succeeded in doing and far better than a lot of the crap we’re churning out these days. Do you know how much the movie cost? Four million dollars, or roughly one-fifth of what we pay some of our top-billed actors. For that budget, Russia absolutely crushed this movie and I can’t wait to see the first of the sequels, Day Watch, available now.