Alexei Balabanov’s third feature is a slickly tooled thriller aimed squarely at young Russian audiences. Toplining the charismatic actor Sergei Bodrov (“Prisoner of the Mountains”) in a ruggedly romantic role, suspenser has a chance for international exposure in fests and later on the tube and video.
Danila (Bodrov) has just completed two years’ military service, during which time he was confined to a desk job. He decides to look up his older brother, Viktor (Viktor Sukhoroukov), in St. Petersburg, and discovers on arrival there that Viktor, nicknamed Tatar, is a contract killer involved in internecine warfare among Mafia groups. Danila signs on as his sibling’s assistant, and before long is assigned the task of killing a mobster known as the Chechin, for which the brothers will be paid $20,000. Wounded while successfully carrying out his assignment, Danila is cared for by a kindly man known as the German (Yuri Kouznetzov). The Chechin’s men are now after him.
In between ducking the bullets of the well-armed bad guys, Danila, who’s never without his prized Discman, finds time for romance, first with Sveta (Svetlana Pismitchenko), a tram driver and victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her often absent husband, then with Kat (Maria Joukova), a druggie.
Though the thriller elements of the plot chart familiar territory, the action scenes are solidly staged by Balabanov, the scenic streets and waterways of St. Petersburg forming a vivid backdrop to the skullduggery. Pic depicts the beautiful Russian city as an Americanized place: People rendezvous at McDonald’s, carry guns, listen to Westernized music and do drugs. Popular Russian rock band Nautilus is prominently showcased: Danila searches record stores for their hard-to-obtain latest CD and, accompanied by Sveta, attends one of their concerts.
Pic is fashionably violent and nihilistic, but Bodrov’s potent presence keeps the viewer involved. Female characters get short shrift, however. Direction is slick, with the mayhem leavened by a sardonic sense of humor, and technical credits are pretty good, despite a graininess in the print caught.