Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Night Watch

This week's movie outing was to Oriental Theater to see "Night Watch" (Nochnoi Dozor), a 2004 film out of Russia, and, reputedly, one of the highest grossing recent Russian films. It is being compared, with some justification, to both "Underworld" and "The Matrix," and to my mind is better than either. The premise, indeed, is rather similar to "Underworld," and we start off with a Medieval period battle scene--. However, instead of vampires vs. werewolves, there are only "Others"--people born of, or born as, normal humans who have powers of witchcraft, shapeshifting or vampirical nature (others are implied to exist) but whether "good" or "evil" depends on individual tendnecies, much as with normals. The battle ends in truce with terms that include that any other may freely choose to belong to the Light or Dark. Each side will have enforcers that police the treaty terms, the "Night Watch" to keep tabs on the Dark side, and a "Day Watch" to patrol the Light.

The story proper begins in 1992, when Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky) seeks out a reputed witch in order to help him regain his lost love. She convinces him of ther powers and lures him into a dark pact that will involve him taking on his soul the sin of causing his wife's illegitmate child to miscarry. She's well into the ritual when they are "busted" by the Night Watch. The power backlash causes Anton's innate "otherness" to manifest, and he is confronted with the choice they all must make, Light or Dark?

Cut then, to 2004. Anton has become a "seer" and agent of the Night Watch, and living a pretty low-down and lonely existence. Perhaps one of the best things about this movie is that not only are all the supernaturals not beautiful, they don't all live wealthy and glamorous lifestyles. Most of them are living the same poor, gritty and run-down lives as the other Russians. All of the Others can enhance powers by drinking blood: one of the differences between the Light and Dark is that the Light do it only when necessary, the Dark do it any time they can get away with it. In order to power up for a surveillance job, Anton literally has to borrow a cup of blood from his vampire neighbor across the hall. The stake-out (NPI) goes bad when he gets separated from his back-up team, and has to kill in self-defence. The Day watch alleges that he used excessive force, which sets off a complicated plot interweaving the darksider's revenge, a potentially apocalytic curse, and the forthcoming end of the truce and ultimate struggle between Light and Dark that will be played out in two sequels, to be called "Day Watch" (Dnevnoy Dozor) and "Dusk Watch."

The film is atmospherically grim, dark, gritty, and bloody, although not excessively bloody. Special effects are minimal and tasteful, with the manifestations of Anton's "seeing" ability being the most spectacular. A fight scene is more likely to be overlain with images of past battles or spiritual side-effects than "bullet-time" or flying. Khabvensky carries the film well, being realistically depressed and beaten about, which makes his few moments of elation all the more affecting. He does a good job of portraying a very ordinary man who has been dragged into a new reality.

I didn't detect any major plot holes, although the curse, which builds up to a pretty nasty and intense pitch, is ultimately disposed of rather easily, but not unreasonably so, given how we learn it started,

Good fun, of a very noir fashion. I look forward to the second and third parts. Apparently number 2 is in the can, and has been released in Europe (it may appear over here as "Night Watch 2) but ther is no US release date set as yet.
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