Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor) – Movie Review (*1/2)

(Originally posted on 3-4-06)

Do you sometimes wonder if foreign films get critical praise simply for being foreign or for being sub-titled (which I guess wasn’t really the case with Caveman, but was with The Passion of the Christ – I never saw the latter, but I did see the former and let me tell you it was way under-appreciated)?

Night Watch (or Nochnoi Dozor in its original release which I guess means Night Watch in Russian), directed by Timur Bekmambetov, has come to the US as a major theatrical release after being acclaimed as the highest grossing Russian film of all time. The online geek fan community (of which I deny any affiliation whatsoever…) has been fairly epileptic about it, and really the early trailers did look pretty cool, however, no surprise here, there is a huge difference between breezing through a cool two minute long trailer and suffering through a hundred and fourteen minute unholy mess of a movie.

Apparently there is an age old civil war going on in the world and it is being waged by a group of beings that call themselves the Others. There is a good side and an evil side to this Civil War, natch. The good side calls themselves the Light, while the evil side calls themselves the Dark (though, it has been my experience that when it comes right down to it, no one ever actually openly admits that they are evil – even when they do they are generally more interested in the semantics of the issue than actually admitting to being evil). There is a temporary truce in place, one in which the Light patrol the night and are called the Night Watch, and the dark, of course, patrol the day and are called the Day Watch.

The Others are made of former people who have “awoken” and acquired special gifts – such as vampirism, shape shifting, pre-cognition, super strength, lightning fast jump cutting, etc. Once they become “Other” they then need to chose sides – Light or Dark, and take up a position on the opposing sides of the war. The main character Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) is part of the Night Watch, he is a barely functional alcoholic who is also a vampire. He is friends with his neighbors across the hall who are also vampires but belong to the dark side and own and operate a normal butcher shop at the local market where they harvest pig’s blood in the back to slake their thirst.

The Others live in a state of constant, uneasy détente, waiting. There is a prophecy ( because there always is, you know) that an Other would come and the battle would be rejoined and decided based on the side that this Other would choose.  Both sides are searching and waiting for this new Other to show him or herself so that they can persuade him/her to join their side and turn the battle to their favor. (Yeah, I know, that paragraph was a mess… kinda like the movie.)

Obviously there are some cool themes underlying here, but I am not sure how aware of them the filmmakers are or if the themes are more prevalently played out in the original books on which the movie is based (there are three books, of course). There are not many differences between the good Others and the evil Others, just in the sides they have lined up in this age old war. This could be about Israel and Palestine, easily. Or any number of inter-territory conflicts throughout the ages where the real motivations were always more political than anything to do with the real concerns of the actual combatants in the midst of the fray losing their lives daily.

This movie, however, is too busy trying to look cool and be epic on a budget. Granted, the effects are relatively impressive for having come completely from a rebuilding economy like that in Russia, but the story is all over the place. The characters are plain in performance and clichéd in name. The dialogue tends to be cryptic in nature just for the sake of being cryptic, not for any real story motivation reason. The direction is wildly uneven and there is no logical progression from one story line to the next.

There is a nice little twist at the end, however it is nothing really new and, after the almost seemingly endless slog through everything before, it feels just a bit too little too late. There is a great story in here trying very hard to get out, unfortunately it just couldn’t make it due to all of the overpowering efforts of the filmmakers to be edgy, hip, epic and serious.

The sequel Day Watch (I don’t know the Russian title off hand) has already been released in Russia and is setting all kinds of new records. Hopefully the filmmakers have gotten a little experience and maturity under their belts now and have been able to deliver a little more substance this time around to go along with all of their earlier misplaced style.

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