Street-gang sensibilities and misspent youth offer solid drama and a realistic portrayal of urban gangsterism in Kazakh crimer "Racketeer."

Street-gang sensibilities and misspent youth offer solid drama and a realistic portrayal of urban gangsterism in Kazakh crimer “Racketeer.” Last year’s boffo local hit shows there’s more going on in Kazakhstan than camels, yurts and wind-swept steppes, a la “Tulpan.” Snappy, 80-minute pic, about the dangerous momentum of life in the rackets, features tight scripting and solid performances, and would make a quality addition to fests open to genre fare.

Helmer Akhan Sataev’s feature bow, for his own production company, Sataifilm, was reportedly made for some $800,000. In Kazakhstan alone, the film raked in around $2 million, and other territories in Central Asia also warmly embraced the pic. Even after a year in local release, ancillary biz is still booming, and the screening at the Eurasia fest (where it won the audience award) was filled with young fans.

Opening with black-and-white family photos and driven by an ever-present v.o. by Sayan (Sayan Isembaev), the pic outlines the Almaty-based protag’s early life, from his boyhood interest in boxing, through a false start with the girl of his dreams, Assel (Assel Sagatova), to the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union on his father’s income and family’s status.

After a stint in the army and a return to college, Sayan wins a club boxing match and is recruited by local protection racketeer Rulsan (Murat Bisembin). His first job is breaking through the private security of one of Rulsan’s more recalcitrant clients. As Sayan becomes Rulsan’s key enforcer, money and Assel return to his life.

The pic follows Sayan’s rise within the outfit and the complications of the brotherhood of gang culture and a milieu where no one can be trusted.

Perfs are robust, with beefcake thesp Isembaev maintaining a likable presence throughout. Extensive v.o. recalls its effective use in the Martin Scorsese companion pieces “Goodfellas” and “Casino,” though here it’s much less omnipresent. Isembaev manages to deliver the mass of narration without becoming overbearing.

Script by Timur Zhaksilykov is hard-jawed, with an authentic eye for criminal mores and organization. Neatly compressed narrative ensures suspense and momentum is maintained to the final scene.

Sataev’s helming has a workmanlike professionalism, boosted by expert editing that hints at Sataev’s experience in commercials. Score by Andrei Lifinsky also aids the pic’s pacing.

Widescreen photography is pro, though somewhat undistinguished beyond its early black-and-white and sepia sequences. All other credits are of good quality.



  • Production: A Sataifilm production. (International sales: Sataifilm, Almaty, Kazakhstan.) Produced by Azamat Ilyasov, Akhan Sataev. Directed by Akhan Sataev. Screenplay, Timur Zhaksilykov.
  • Crew: Camera (B&W/color, widescreen), Khasan Kydraliev; editor, Valeri Peretyatko; music, Andrei Lifinsky; production designer, Bopesh Zhandaev; sound (Dolby Digital, Andrei Vlaznev. Reviewed at Eurasia Film Festival, Astana, Kazakhstan, Sept. 8, 2008. Running time: 80 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Sayan Isembaev, Murat Bisembin, Saken Aminov, Mentai Utepbergenov, Assel Sagatova. (Russian dialogue)
  • Music By: