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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Leviathan (2014)


In with the new, out with the old. Or something like that.

Kolia (Alexei Serebriakov) is a simple, care-free Russian citizen who is currently going through a problem right now in his life that he can’t seem to handle. A house that he built and has been living in since an early age, is now being threatened to be taken down by mayor Vadim (Madyanov), a crooked political-figure who wants the property so that he can set-up shop when he eventually becomes a bigger hot-shot in the world of politics. To ensure that Koila doesn’t lose his land, he calls upon an old army friend of his, Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), who is now a practicing lawyer and good one at that, seeing as how he believes that they have enough information to put Vadim away for a very long time. However, personal problems arise for both Koila and Dmitri that not only put their defense into jeopardy, but possibly even their friendship together. Especially considering that neither of them have seen each other in quite some time; who knows who’s changed? You know?

At the end of every year, there always seems to be a foreign film that, for some reason or another, is hardly ever heard from in the preceding 12 or so months, only to then pop-up out of nowhere on everybody’s radar and become the top nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. That’s not to say that these movies are bad, it’s just odd that there’s hardly ever been a foreign language film that’s been known to be so great and amazing throughout the whole entire year, only to then show up once again when the year’s over and become, what everybody assumes, the clear-winner for the Oscar. Maybe I’m stepping a bit too far beyond my reach, but whatever the case, Leviathan is not a movie I heard of at all, until mid-January, when it was all of a sudden on everybody’s radar to win the Oscar.

Cheer up, man. You're Russian and you're not playing some goofy, over-the-top villain like you would in some American action-pic.

Cheer up, man. You’re Russian and you’re not playing some goofy, over-the-top villain like you would in some American action-pic.

So yeah, if you’re a gambling man or woman, then yeah, I’d say that Leviathan is possibly a wise bet to take a chance on. That doesn’t mean it’s neither good or bad, as much as it’s just something that too often happens in the Oscar-race; some movies get submitted by their own, respective countries, whereas others don’t. Whatever the reasons for this problem may be, it doesn’t seem to matter right now; Leviathan is clearly the front-runner and so be it.

However, I’m not sure it deserves it.

What deserves to win in its place is totally up in the air, for now, but regardless, the fact is that I feel Leviathan does a lot of things right, but is ultimately, another down-beat, depressing and morbid tale that most Oscar-votes tend to lean towards because it focuses on the real, painful struggles that can be felt around the world. While the light, sometimes lovely comedies of the foreign-world get ignored because they’re simply “too optimistic”, downright sad dramas see all sorts of the light of the day. The past three winners were fine (A Separation, Amour, the Great Beauty) were fine, but once again, except for the later, most of them are another pair of upsetting movies made to shock audiences who don’t normally set-out to see foreign flicks on a regular-basis.

Anyway, I realize that most of my discussion is getting further and further away from the movie, but it’s just something I felt I needed to address. Because honestly, Leviathan is not a bad movie per se – it’s just a movie that clearly has faults that may definitely get overlooked in the following weeks to come. For reasons I’ve explained already and won’t bore you with anymore.

Where its strengths are in though, is maybe the first hour or so of itself. For instance, it starts off strong in introducing us to these characters, the situation they’re thrown into and what the main focus of this story is going to be. Though you could say the story isn’t necessarily limited in its scope, there’s definitely an idea that we’re going to focus solely on the rivalry between the mayor of this town, and this man who he has come into conflict. I was sold, hook, line and sinker with this plot-line and was definitely looking forward to where it all went next.

Most of this was probably because the characters were so strongly-written and performed, that I couldn’t take my eyes away from them. Because with these characters, you get real life human beings, chock full of their faults and all; but the movie hardly ever judges them for what they do, which is astounding considering what some of these characters do in the later-parts of this film. Take, for instance, Kolia, our main protagonist you could kind of say he is.

For starters, we get the impression that there’s something definitely deeply troubling this man. He can’t seem to hold himself together when it comes to his emotions, nor when he’s tossing vodka down his throat. Heck, one of the first glimpses we get of him is him whacking the back of the head of his son with hardly even a sense of remorse; it’s not just an element of parenthood he was probably raised on, but absolutely condones, seeing as how it’s made him out to be the man he is today, even if he doesn’t fully realize the error of his ways. But though he’s got his fair share of problems, there’s still an element of sympathy that’s felt for this guy because he is trying to keep his home, as well as his family-tradition, alive and well.

When in doubt, drink up boys.

When in doubt, drink up boys.

In fact, much of this film is made to point out the problems between tradition, versus the modern-way of doing things. Whereas Kolia would probably partition for the local mom-n-pop store to stay open, the despicable mayor would constantly push and push for that Wal-Mart lurking down a couple of blocks to come in, sweep all of the smaller stores away, regardless of if they were up before, or for how long. The movie discusses this in a smart, intelligent-manner that can sometimes be a tad obvious, but feels important enough that it didn’t matter.

However, that all changes after awhile and it’s where the film seems to lose its step.

Because, without saying too much, the movie sort of switches gears to being less about this feud between the mayor and Kolia, and more about each and every character’s own problems with life. Some are happy; some aren’t; and some are just content to keep on going and going until they can’t any longer. Though this would normally interest me, had this been the original plan to focus on in the first place, it just doesn’t here. Not to mention that the movie seems to go on for another hour or so, with nearly three different endings, none of which seemed to fully satisfy the point it was trying to across in the first place.

So yes, the movie definitely gets muddled by the end and it’s a shame. Maybe it’s just me, but I was all for a lean, mean film about the battle between the small-time, local folk, against the large, rather powerful politician that was ready for a change, by any means necessary. Though I’m fine with a movie changing itself up to keep the story’s focus ever-changing, here, it felt more like a missed-opportunity. Sure, people are sad in their own little lives. So what? Do you have anything more to say than that? With Leviathan, it’s never clear. And maybe that’s the point.

Oh well. Time to go shopping at Target.

Consensus: Despite a compelling first-half that sets plenty of promise for what’s next to come, Leviathan sort of collapses on itself once it tries to handle too much, all at one time, further losing sight of what it was originally trying to say in the first place.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Symbolism. Right, guys?

Symbolism. Right, guys?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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5 responses to “Leviathan (2014)

  1. Keith February 1, 2015 at 5:10 am

    Really anxious to see this. Good review man.

  2. Joseph@thecinemamonster February 1, 2015 at 7:12 am

    Well, I enjoyed this a lot more than yourself, it would seem lol. So much so, in fact, that it’s currently in my top 5 of 2014. As you alluded to, it’s very doom and gloom, making for a tough watch without the lengthy runtime. I found it wrapped itself up quite nicely and the visuals are a beautiful accompaniment to the dark, although strong performances. Excellent stuff, Dan!

  3. Alastair Savage February 1, 2015 at 9:29 am

    I wonder if Leviathan is benefiting from political voting because it is so clearly a film protesting against conditions in its home country.
    I personally think Argentina’s Relatos Salvajes (Wild Tales) will win the Oscar for best picture in a foreign language this year. I review it here: https://alastairsavage.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/relatos-salvajes-wild-tales/
    It also looks at corruption and emotional breakdown, but has a much more comedic slant than the Russian contender.

  4. Brittani February 1, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    You’re right about some of these foreign films sneaking up. I’ve only been hearing about Ida all year, then this film came out of nowhere. I think when it hits DVD, I will definitely check it out.

  5. clairestbearest February 2, 2015 at 6:42 am

    This just looks so unbelievably boring and it’s by the same director and writers as Elena which I hated. I usually try to see the Oscar frontrunners, but I just can’t bring myself to bother with this one

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