'Break Loose' Review

Latest from director of Russian's 2010 Oscar submission, 'The Edge,' emphasizes style over substance.

Grungy, witty and savage, the Russian crime thrillerBreak Loose” entertains despite its ludicrously repetitive action and cliched story of the impossible love between a special forces cop and a gangster’s moll. Set in the final days of 1999 (and Boris Yeltsin), the film makes meager use of political subtext, but it doesn’t much matter given director Alexey Uchitel’s infectious love of borderline-goofy fight scenes, many of which are brilliantly choreographed. Though commercial prospects outside Russia appear limited, plenty of fests will forge ties with “Break Loose,” Uchitel’s first feature since “The Edge,” Russia’s Oscar entry from 2010.

To the extent that the film is a comedy, its running gag is the insatiable appetite for street violence among four old army buddies who now work for OMON, an elite police squad charged with curbing local protests and breaking up the scuffles of low-level thugs. Not content with the head-bashings they administer in their day jobs, fresh-faced Ger (Alexey Mantsigyn) and his pals — Lykov (Alexander Novyn), Shorokh (Pavel Vorontsov), and Grekh (Artem Bystrov) — favor looking for fights after hours as well. An early scene has the friends pummelling goons in the lobby of a bustling nightclub.

It’s at the club, owned by mob boss Boots (Artur Smolyaninov), where Ger first lays eyes on gorgeous Aglaya (Vilma Kutavichute), who’s dancing onstage. Hardly subtle, Uchitel tracks the camera slowly toward the gape-mouthed Ger to establish that he’s instantly smitten. Learning that his crush is Boots’ main squeeze doesn’t deter Ger in his efforts to bed Aglaya; if anything, it seems to turn him on even more. Climbing up a pole to a third-floor window to peep on Aglaya, Ger eventually succeeds in his lascivious aim, which naturally escalates the war between Boots’ crew and Ger’s.

Based on Zahkhar Prilepin’s novel “The Eight,” “Break Loose” has a curiously smeared, sludgy look that somehow adds to its appeal as a scrappy film noir. Countless fight scenes among hilariously macho, vaguely distinguishable tough guys are orchestrated with great verve by Uchitel and stunt coordinator Oleg Korytin. Periodic dream sequences of Kutavichute’s naked Aglaya bouncing in orgasmic bliss — from Ger’s p.o.v., of course — are representative of Uchitel’s preference for style over substance. Accordingly, thesping here seems nothing special.

Toronto Film Review: 'Break Loose'

Reviewed at Toronto International Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), September 8, 2013. Running time: 82 MIN. Original title: "Vosmerka"

Production

(Russia) A Rock Films production, with support of Russian Cinema Fund. (International sales: Wide Management, Paris.) Produced by Alexey Uchitel. Executive producers, Elena Bystrova, Vladislav Mayevsky. Co-producers, Kira Saksaganskaya, Catherine Mtsitouridze.

Crew

Directed by Alexey Uchitel. Screenplay, Alexander Mindadze, based on the novel “The Eight” by Zahkhar Prilepin. Camera (color), Yury Klimenko, Alexander Demyanenko; editors, Yelena Andreyeva, Gleb Nikulsky, Ekaterina Shahunova; production designer, Andrey Vasin; costume designers, Galina Deyeva, Irina Grajdankina; set decorator, Sergey Anisimov; stunt coordinator, Oleg Korytin; sound (Dolby Digital), Vladimir Ozemkov; supervising sound editors, Valentina Mordashova, Ludmila Danilova, Anastasia Pasenchuk; re-recording mixers, Dmitry Grigoryev, Konstantin Zalessky; assistant director, Philipp Yuryev; casting, Kristina Uchuvatkina, Svetlana Trusova, Natalya Titova.

With

Alexey Mantsigyn, Artur Smolyaninov, Alexander Novyn, Artem Bystrov, Pavel Vorontsov, Vilma Kutavichute. (Russian dialogue)

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