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Leviathan **

Is it worth $10? No

A movie like “Leviathan” should come with a drowsiness warning, like the ones seen on the sides of medicine bottles. No one should consume alcohol while watching it. This is counter-intuitive, as the last half of the movie is such a painfully boring slog that you will want to drink something alcoholic to get you through it. Making it even more difficult is the fact that, this being a Russian film, the characters on screen drink copious quantities of vodka. But resist! The combination of alcohol and the level of boredom could induce a coma. I’m no doctor, but I think that is a fair warning.

What makes this especially infuriating is that the first hour or so has such promise and potential. It is the story of Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov), the citizen of a small coastal town in Russia. The corrupt mayor of the town, Vadim (Roman Madyanov), is seizing Kolya’s land. Kolya understands that he has to move, but thinks the price he is being paid is completely unfair. To help him in his fight for justice he calls in former Army buddy and Moscow lawyer Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov).

This part of the movie held my interest, as it is a classic David and Goliath story. Vadim shows up drunk and tries to intimidate Kolya and his wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova). Dmitri witnesses this and tries to lodge a complaint, only to find out that, like in America, you can’t fight City Hall. In order to get his way, Dmitri digs up some dirt on Vadim. Vadim retaliates in a way that one imagines a notoriously corrupt mayor would retaliate.

The first half of “Leviathan” has a fantastic narrative thrust. Kolya and Dmitri have a great friendship, and the adversity they face is very clear. As an American I especially got a kick out of the similarities between the laws of Russia and the laws in the U.S., and how the process to get things done through government is full of stumbling blocks and bureaucratic red tape. I thought I was going to get a brilliant commentary on the dehumanized nature of bureaucracy, such as the 1992 Chinese film “The Story of Qiu Ju” or the great 1952 Japanese film “Ikiru,” a personal favorite directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa.

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Then halfway through “Leviathan,” my hopes were dashed. The social commentary on bureaucracy and law in Russia is swept aside in favor of a love triangle. In a fit of passion once Lilya learns that Dmitri will get much more money from the mayor than originally promised, she follows him to his hotel room and sleeps with him. Then, for some inexplicable reason, Dmitri and Lilya sneak off during a picnic to have sex, and they are caught. This naturally tears apart the friendship between Kolya and Dmitri, and leaves Lilya in the middle deciding who to choose.

The love triangle may sound enticing, but I assure you it is not. There are a lot of slow, labored scenes with a lot of hand wringing and discussions about what to do. Director Andrey Zvyagintsev also has a penchant for long, drawn out shots that are not composed in any particularly interesting way. Honestly, how long does a shot from the back seat of a car, looking out a windshield have to be? Better yet, why include it at all? The Russian landscape, from what I can tell by looking in the background of some shots, holds the same beauty as America’s Pacific Northwest, or Alaska. None of this beauty is captured through Zvyagintsev’s lens, though judging by all of the long takes looking out into bleak nothingness, he seems to find some beauty in it.

“Leviathan” is really two movies in one. The first is an interesting and insightful look into the Russian judicial system and in the way the government treats its citizens. The other is a slow and monotonous love triangle with little insight, plot elements that are unexplained and/or make no sense, and it does nothing to tie in with its far superior first half.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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