Night Watch


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Night Watch
"There is no denying the impressive visual extravagance with which Bekmambetov executes his ideas."

The forces of Light and Darkness have been at war since time immemorial, but when a medieval fracas escalated out of control, the opposed leaders Geser (Vladimir Menshov) and Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky) entered a truce to avoid the mutually assured destruction that any final showdown would bring. The terms of the truce, to be policed by the Light's Night Watch and the Dark's Day Watch, were that no one could be forced to join the ranks of either side without exercising their own free will, until eventually a powerful messiah would appear, whose choice between Light and Dark would tip the balance once and for all and determine the future of the world.

Skip ahead to 2004 and Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky), the newest and most ambivalent member of the Night Watch, must decide where his true allegiances lie, as a cursed woman (Mariya Poroshina) threatens to engulf all of Moscow in a Vortex of Darkness and a young boy (Dmitri Martynov) emerges who must make a difficult decision intimately related to a choice made by Anton 12 years earlier.

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A huge success at the Russian box office, Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor) is the first in a projected trilogy of films, based on novels by Sergei Lukyanenko, using fantasy, horror and gobsmacking special effects to explore the greyer areas of contemporary life. Fans of Hellboy, Constantine, Underworld and the Blade and Matrix trilogies will find themselves on familiar territory here, but in his feature debut, co-writer/director Timur Bekmambetov exploits a Muscovite setting that is unusual for the genre and in his presentation of Dark and Light refuses to admit to any corresponding black-and-white morality.

Every character seems conflicted, Anton in particular. Though he has chosen the way of the Light, he had earlier employed magic to kill an unborn fœtus and now fraternises with his Dark vampire neighbour, suspecting that the entrapment operations in which he participates are every bit as wrong as the Machiavellian methods employed by Zavulon and his cohorts. On top of all this, he cuts an amiably bumbling, somewhat shabby figure, whose main weapon is not a gun, but a torch - a welcome antidote to the trench-coated cool that is so uniformly embodied by his American counterparts.

There is no denying the impressive visual extravagance with which Bekmambetov executes his ideas. Where he comes into his own, however, is in his handling of the chaotic traffic between cause and effect. One breathtaking set piece follows the descent of a tiny rivet, torn out of the side of a passenger plane by the force of a supernatural tornado. The rivet plunges through the pouring rain to the roof of a building far below and then continues to plummet down an air flue to land with a plop in a mug of coffee being stirred by the source of the vortex above. Here we have, literally, a storm in a teacup, as well as a vivid depiction of the way that the tiniest of actions can have unexpectedly monumental consequences - something of central importance in a film all about the everyday ethical choices that we make.

Twentieth Century Fox has tweaked its version of Night Watch for international distribution, reducing some scenes from the original and even removing an entire character, Gosha Kutsenko's metaphysical seducer Ignat. This certainly makes the film simpler, but not obviously better. By way of compensation, Fox has inserted a set of highly stylised subtitles that change position, shape and colour in response to the action. Sure, this is just one further manifestation of dumbing down (lightening the supposed burden of having to read text during a movie), but who cares when it looks so great?

Reviewed on: 06 Oct 2005
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Night Watch packshot
The forces of Light and Darkness storm and battle through the conflicted consciousness of 21st century Moscow.
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Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Writer: Timur Bekmambetov, Laeta Kalogridis, based on the novel by Sergei Lukyanenko

Starring: Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Valeri Zolotukhin, Mariya Poroshina, Galina Tyunina, Aleksei Chadov, Zhanna Friske, Ilya Lagutenko, Viktor Verzhbitsky, Rimma Markova, Mariya Mironova, Aleksei Maklakov, Akeksandr Samojlenko, Dmitri Martynov, Anne S

Year: 2004

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Russia


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