Thursday, 12 September 2013

THE MAJOR - Review By Greg Klymkiw - #TIFF 2013 - Did you know corruption exists in Russia? Now you do!

The Major (2013) ***
Dir. Yuri Bykov
Starring: Denis Shvedov, Yuri Bykov, Irina Nizin

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Did you know corruption runs rampant in Russia? Gotta tell ya', it sure came as a surprise to me. I always assumed a country run by a Totalitarian ex-KGB agent like, say, Vladimir Putin, would be clean - fresh as a handi-napped baby's anus. Alas, the truth of the matter has left me crestfallen - especially with the newly-gleaned tidbit that Russia's corruption extends even to the police force. Corruption in the police force? Yes, even in Mother Russia. Thanks, of course, to the art of cinema, we all get to learn something new everyday and what I really learned from the new movie The Major is the extent to which Russian cops will go to protect each other. Policemen protecting each other? In Russia? Sure. Let's take police major Sergey Sobolev (Denis Shvedov). Learning his wife's in labour, he hightails it to the hospital, blasting down an icy highway like it's his personal Indy 500. If truth be told, his aggressive behind-the-wheel shenanigans are typical of Russian drivers, but because he's a cop, he's not blind drunk like the civilians most certainly are.

As (bad) luck would have it, he sees a kid crossing the road. Instead of slowing down, he honks his horn, pedal to the metal. The child stops in his tracks - confused, disoriented and scared. In a matter of seconds, Sergey ploughs into the kid and turns the burgeoning proletarian into a huge wad of hamburger meat in front of his babe-o-licious Mom (Irina Nizin). Sergey does what any good police officer in Russia would do - he locks the sobbing, screaming mother into his car (keeping her from being with the child during his last burbles of life), then calls his loyal partner Kroshunov (writer-director Bykov) and waits for the true magic of Mother Russia to work its miracles.

And what magnificent Russkie magic Kroshunov orchestrates! Mom is plied with booze before a blood test is taken, the length of the skid marks are falsified, Mom's threatened with being a negligent parent (she was "drunk" after all) and then she watches her husband beaten to a pulp and facing arrest for assaulting a police officer. With her child's shredded slab o' pulp in the morgue, the distraught Mom signs a statement relieving Sergey of all responsibility and agrees her child moronically darted out in front of the vehicle.

Just when things look bright, Sergey shocks strings of undigested cabbage out of his colleagues butt holes when he announces he wants to face the music. Redemption is the salvation he now seeks. If his overwhelming guilt is allowed to be indulged, a lot of cops, including his superiors, are going down. As if this wasn't enough, the dead kid's Dad storms the police station bearing arms and proceeds to take hostages.

The real shit storm is only just beginning.

Director Bykov has pulled out all the stops and The Major is a tautly directed cop thriller that generates anxiety and cuticle-gnawing suspense. Even when Bykov's screenplay injects a potentially unearned redemption and slightly hard-to-swallow change of heart in Sergey's character, the action is as sharp as a Cossack's sabre and things clip along with such grim force that you almost don't notice a few of the gaping holes in the story's logic. Shvedov's intense performance is the one thing that makes the speed at which his character arrives to his unpopular decision a bit less bitter a pill to swallow. In fact, the overall mise en scène powerfully captures the genuine underbelly and reality of today's Russia - drab, lifeless backdrops with alternating harsh and murky lighting.

This is one grim thriller. Though the script falters a touch, the direction and performances always deliver a nasty, break-neck ride with plenty of 70s-style American genre tropes applied to the jaw-droppingly horrendous reality of contemporary Russia - a country run by gangsters with badges - the descendants of both Czarist extremes and Stalinist brutality. The players might change, but the song always remains the same.

"The Major" is part of the TIFF Contemporary World Cinema series at the Toronto International Film Festival 2013. Visit the TIFF website HERE.