| The Red Right Hand
In a fashion similar to Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere,’ Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko’s novel ‘Night Watch’ tells of the war being waged by good & evil, warriors of light and dark on an overlapping dimensional plane to Moscow. The complete trilogy brings about the end of the war, the first simply illustrating the back story and ends with the 'tipping of the balance.'
Let me explain a few things first. According to the plot, centuries ago, the forces of light and dark met crossing a bridge, spanning a massive canyon; A bloody battle ensued, countless warriors died. Realising that the two sides were equally matched and the only outcome would be the complete annihilation of both armies, the general leading the forces of light called a halt to the battle so that a truce could be formed. This truce outlined that they would co-exist on this plane but each side must swear to leave the human race alone. However, there are certain members of our race that are unique, these are called Others. They can see both forces and are given the choice of become a Light Other or a Dark Other. The dark others keep the day watch, the light guard the night watch - hence the title.
After this simple opening we're shown a young man [Khabensky] knocking on an apartment door (1992), he has come to see this woman who he believes to be some sort of witch doctor, in all truth she is a dark other and is attempting to influence Anton's life by making him take on the burden of sin by committing evil deeds. This is in direct violation of the truce struck between the two forces and just before the woman can complete the curse Anton interferes, thus becoming an Other. Once the forces of light have detained Darya for questioning, they explain the situation to Anton who chooses to become a light other and help patrol the night watch. We then cut to 2004 -twelve years later- to find that Anton lives in a dreary flat and has sort of blood craving. As the film develops a child becomes trapped in a crooked plan to sway the balance, with regards to a prophecy about an other with power like no other, who would choose light or dark and bring about the end of the war.
There are so many fine touches that make this film memorable. Firstly they've only used CG to further the story and sparingly, mostly it just creeps you out - which is ideal for this film. Secondly the subtitles are done amazingly well. Just as Man On Fire introduced a new way of using subtitles, integrated them into the action on-screen, making them easier, more accessible and less like reading - believe it or not, I prefer subtitles to dubbing on foreign language films but you have to watch it two or three times, simply because you're looking down at the bottom of the screen and reading, missing what's going on. So the subtitles are done in a way that's relevant (to mood, setting and characters) and interesting but also where necessary - if one actor has thrown another at a wall and is threatening to kill him and his girlfriend is whimpering and pleading in the background, we don't need subtitles to know what she's saying. It just works so well.
I was completely enthralled with this film. This could be a little one-sided though, as I'm desirous for Russian culture, I find it fascinating. The biggest problem with this is that where the Russians have made a mark in the literary world, they have yet to knock Hollywood off its pedestal. A lot of countries have had commendable stabs at this, with varying degrees of success. I feel Night Watch pulls off just this, it's taken Russia out of the dank corridor the world was convinced it dwelled in and has thrust it into the open for all to see. With a fraction of a major-Hollywood production Bekmambetov has managed to create a visual delight; clever, atmospheric, original and visually superb. I only had a few gripes with the film, the first being that Bekmambetov's inexperience shows through in the fight scenes and with the musical score, which -at times- felt somewhat awkward. Also the ending does feel a bit abrupt, although this is how it ended in the book, for a stand-alone film it feels hollow, but once you realise it's part of a trilogy you start to realise that what you've just witnessed is just the first domino.
The second this film hits American soil it's going to be compared with Underworld [$23,000,000] and The Matrix [$63,000,000], but considering that this was shot for under $5 million and only uses CGI-effects (extremely well) to further the plot in sparing places, I would hardly say that's fair. This film is truly a wonder, it also happens to be the highest grossing film from Russia to date, claiming more at the box offices than Spiderman or LOTR: Return Of The King and with recommendations from Quentin Tarantino & Danny Boyle it will surely generate huge interest. The one thing I can guarantee is that if you like this film you'll be screaming at the end, pining for the sequels; lucky for us, they're on their way. Roll on Ночной дозор 2: Мел судьбы [Night Watch 2: Day Patrol].
7th October 2005
The Scene To Look Out For:
Told in the manner of flick-book cave-drawings, General Boris Geser [Menshov] dictates the history of one cursed woman's sorrow, how everything she came into contact with withered and died. This is the start of the war, the birth of the forces of light and dark, all because of one cursed human. The scene is told well, not lashing out with cg shots and sets a nice plot device, almost blaming mankind for it's selfish actions - the damning of another starting a war inside and beneath their own universe.
Anton is simply glorious, Khabensky pulls off the struggle of the almost junkie-like 'other' that he's become. There's a great scene where he opens his closet to find only one item of clothing in there, a large water-proof mac, nothing like the woven-wool/leather coats of The Matrix but it seems to do the trick; practical but somewhat cool looking.
"I'm not a killer! I didn't want him to die!"
In A Few Words:
Best film to come out of Russia since Броненосец Потёмкин (Battleship Potemkin - 1925)