Review: ‘The Trotsky’

A privileged Montreal teen believes he's the reincarnation of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and acts accordingly in high-concept teen comedy.

A privileged Montreal teen believes he’s the reincarnation of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and acts accordingly in high-concept teen comedy “The Trotsky,” from Canadian writer-helmer Jacob Tierney (“Twist”). Both cartoonish and cerebral, and studded with in-jokes referencing multicultural life in “la belle ville” and classic cinema, the colorful pic stretches its premise a bit thin over nearly two hours. But major Canuck distributor Alliance is a convert to the cause, and plans a wide release in both English- and French-speaking territories.

Sharing his radical hero’s birth name, Leon Bronstein (Jay Baruchel) keeps a bright red checklist in his bedroom that outlines his destiny. It includes “get exiled (twice), marry an older woman (preferably named Alexandra) and get assassinated (hopefully somewhere warm).”

After Leon organizes a hunger strike at his father’s garment factory, his capitalist pere (Saul Rubinek) cuts off funds for private school. Enrolling at a public high school for his senior year, Leon brings new meaning to the words “student union” — and conceives a social-justice theme for the school prom.

While fighting fascism as embodied by detention-dispensing Mrs. Davis (Domini Blythe) and dictatorial principal Berkhoff (Colm Feore), Leon must also battle student apathy among his peers, who’ve never heard of collective action. As his antics get him in trouble with the law, he meets retired activist turned disillusioned McGill professor Frank (Michael Murphy) and his gorgeous former student — named Alexandra, natch (Emily Hampshire) — who is the requisite nine years older than Leon.

Proud scion of a liberal Montreal family (with a producer dad and teacher mom), Tierney probably was as fated to make “The Trotsky” as Leon Bronstein is to organize. The scribe takes youthful inspiration from Ken Loach’s “Land and Freedom” and Warren Beatty’s “Reds,” but his most inspired decision was to make his manifesto as a comedy. However, the script often seems too concerned with its own cleverness at the expense of generating any deeper emotions, preventing it from attaining the grace notes of Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore,” which it resembles in many ways.

Thesps provide broadly played, mostly one-note comic shtick, with tall, skinny Baruchel (a vet of comedies such as “Knocked Up” and “Tropic Thunder”) burning with such messianic conviction that his pompadour is all a-quiver.

Shout-outs to Soviet agitprop cinema are pretty funny, with two different dream versions of “Battleship Potemkin’s” Odessa Steps sequence; ace cinematographer Guy Dufaux lenses the speechifying Leon from below to accentuate his heroic stature.

Showcasing the late-summer beauty of bilingual Montreal, the sharply designed production package is everything it should be. Producer Kevin Tierney, the writer-director’s dad, nabbed this year’s Canadian Film and Television Prod. Assn. producer’s award, presented at the Toronto Film Festival where “The Trotsky” world preemed.

The Trotsky



An Alliance Films release of a Park Ex Pictures production, with the participation of Telefilm Canada, Sodec -- Quebec, the Canadian Film or Video Tax Credit. (International sales: Park Ex Pictures, Montreal.) Produced by Kevin Tierney. Directed, written by Jacob Tierney.


Camera (color), Guy Dufaux; editor, Arthur Tarnowski; music, Malajube; production designer, Anne Pritchard; costume designer, Mario Davignon; sound (Dolby Digital), Claude Hazanavicius, Pierre-Jules Audet, Gavin Fernandes. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 12, 2009. (Also in Tokyo Film Festival.) Running time: 117 MIN.


Jay Baruchel, Genevieve Bujold, Anne-Marie Cadieux, Colm Feore, Emily Hampshire, Michael Murphy, Saul Rubinek, Domini Blythe. (English, French dialogue)

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