Movie Review – Leviathan (2014)


Movie Synopsis:

In this Russian film, blue collar man Kolya and his family are faced with the difficult situation of being expropriated off their land and removed from their home, at the hands of a sleazy, corrupt mayor.  While Kolya and his friend, a lawyer from Moscow, try to find ways to stay the expropriation order, they realize they are up against all the powers of the state and the Orthodox Church, who are corrupt and in the mayor’s pockets.  Kolya descends into despair, as he loses his temper and finds more and more trouble, as events slip further out of his control, in this critique of the power of Russian government.

Movie Review:

This Russian film is the winner of many international awards, but ironically it has been criticized by the Russian Ministry of Culture after they provided funding to the film.  It is truly ironic a film criticizing the State is now being criticized by the State!

In any event, the overall film itself is a very interesting story in the current state of affairs in Russia.  The government, from the Mayor’s Office to the police forces to the court system to the Church itself, seems very corrupt, and is a good picture of where Russia currently exists in 2014.  The critical analysis done by Director Andrey Zvyagintsev is important and shines a light on problems in the country today.  In addition, social concerns in the country related to alcoholism, healthy relationships and domestic abuse, and hopelessness are also explored to varying degrees.

The character development is a little bit less focused than the larger theme exploration that the director and writers focus on.  The main character Kolya is fairly well fleshed out, and we see some interesting parallels begin to emerge between him and the prophet Job from the Old Testament.  It is interesting to watch Kolya flare from one scene to another, as the bad luck and problems mount, and we see how he reacts.  Although we get to know Kolya and a couple of other characters, many of them have important roles but with details of their characters left unexplained.  It was hard to fully grasp their emotional states and what they were thinking when we didn’t have as much backstory as we would like.  That being said, when there are scenes that centre around characters and their daily life in northern, rural, coastal Russia, some of these are the most interesting.

And that brings us to the cinematography, which is beautiful and haunting.  The shots of northern Russia, rural Russian landscape, with its dark, barren grasses and cold snowfalls, are eerie and so effective when looking at the bleak storyline.  The film excels at merging the dark story of Kolya with the scenes of the landscape and ocean.

One final point to make is that although the film opens and ends with powerful classical musical numbers that are scored perfectly to the storyline, it is unfortunate the film is absent of a score most of the time. Additional attention to the scoring may have provided a more rounded film.

That being said, although the film had some flaws from my point of view, it was still an interesting analysis of Russia in 2014, and definitely worth watching.

Overall: 3 stars out of 5 stars.