Moscow Chill
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Moscow Chill

The fact is we will never run out of crime thrillers for the movies. First of all the average member of the audience is infatuated with criminals. We like to think that those who earn a living outside the constraints of laws and codified morality are somehow beneath us. The truth of the matter is this genre has remained one of the most popular through the long history of cinema. It actually was a well established theme in stories as far back as history can tell. Look at the nursery tales we tell our children. Jack and the beanstalk was a about a youthful offender who commits a breaking and entry to rob an unsuspecting giant. In the forties there was a surge in crime flicks mostly surrounding organized crime activities. In more recent years there has been a move from bootlegging to cyber theft; all very natural considering the state of modern technology. The recent film, ‘Moscow Chill’ is one such flick. It combines computer crime with the Russian mob. This also seems to be part of another long standing trend in movies. Some ethnic group has to do time as the bad guys in crime thrillers. Many groups have had this distinction over the years. There have been movies based on Asian tongs, Irish gangsters and the Italian mafia. It also most seems that a screenwriter can just insert the selected ethnic group into such a script. Here in the States we had decades were the Russians were the villains in all those cold war espionage films. Now with a spirit of cooperation existing between our nations the script writers just change spies to mobsters. At least in this film depends on the very specific culture that surrounds people engaged in Russian organized crime. There is a culture here that rivals the dark code of honor that existed in the old world mob movies. This film may have some technical problems but it basically holds together as a reasonably good representative of the genre. It is important to keep in mind the resources that the film maker had available when creating his work. For this movie the budget was about one million dollars. While this may seem a lot of money, especially in this dire economic time, but the fact of the matter is it is a drop in the bucket for most movies. This sum would barely be able to set up the port-o-potties on set for a blockbuster feature. A film like this also tends to have a very short shooting schedule. This translates to a shoot a scene and move on methodology for the director. This is the great thing about independent films; they test the mettle of the cast and crew and push them to do better things. This film was first released in a Russian film festival and had small theatrical releases in Russia and Argentina. The American DVD distribution was picked up by MTI Home Entertainment. They have been working on a reputation of finding quirky little films that show potential for the people behind them.

Andrei Konchalovsky has considerable experience in Russian dramatic films before taking on this story. His writing partner here, Chris Solimine had two previous screenplays, ‘The Odyssey’ and ‘Leningrad’. Both were broadcast as television mini series here in the States. Russian literature is view by some to be deep, dark and cumbersome. These men show that a Russian based story can contain excitement and a story that will engage the audience. What should be kept in mind is the fact that there are other ways to see the world and express emotions than those that we are familiar with here in the States. In our crime flicks there tends to be an overabundance of emotional displays. The crime boss shouts, the henchmen cower and the women are there for window dressing. A Russian approach would come across as more stoic to our eyes. Their stories are told in a more straightforward fashion which can come across as banal to audiences in the States. While watching this story unfold you should embrace the cultural differences in story telling. This is a crime thriller so naturally audiences here expect the typical American definition of thrills. That is big explosions, frequent gun fights and non stop action. This movie is more sedate in those terms. It is like the difference between Asian and American horror. The precepts of the genre are fundamentally the same but the approach is completely different. Like Asian horror this film is more psychologically inclined. The thrills are created in the mind of the viewer not through the explicit use of special effects. There is something to be said about this way of presenting a thriller. It was the way things were in the forties and watching this film was a refreshing change from the headache inducing thrillers popular today.

The prior experience that Solimine had with television mini series did show in his work here. There are many natural differences in telling a story within the confines of a movie with a running time of less than two hours and the extended canvas afforded by a mini series. In the later there is ample time to build the characters and develop the situations and back stories essential to the plot. Solimine has a lot of promise in the shorter format but there is admittedly work to be done. There is a feeling of some loose ends that remain at the conclusion of the movie. Others scenes seem like they could have used more set up to bring out their full impact for the story. One the plus side Solimine is a natural story teller. He knows how to maintain the narrative of the story and keep the characters interesting. Since this film has a psychological approach there was a need for a slower pace. Solimine works within this format very well and the twists and turns of the story are enjoyable to follow.

At the core of the story is a perennial favorite, the stranger in a strange land. Ray Perso (Norman Reedus) is a hacker by trade and inclination. He was serving a term imprison for using his considerable computer skills to break into the ATM network and have them pour out money. He claims an addiction to hacking and the terms of his parole is a ban from ever using a computer again. With only days to go on his incarceration Ray is broken out of prison by Dolphin (Slava Schoot), a henchman of a very powerful Russian mob boss, Dubinsky (Vladimir Kuleshov). Dubinsky moved up from a humble accountant, Ray’s mother was one of his clients, to a man in control of a large part of the Russian underworld. Ray is asked to set up a program that can intercept wire transfers and divert millions into Dubinsky’s coffers. Ray jumps at the chance to get back into the hacking game and soon becomes enthralled by the societal workings of the Russian criminal. Along the way he also falls in love with a beautiful Russian woman, Maya (Xusha Buravsky). The plan is discovered and Ray finds out that he is in deeper than he thought possible.

This is a film that requires your full attention to understand. It is woven together and while some stands seem to be missing works overall. This is a transitional work for the director and shows that he is on the right track and I for one look forward to his next movie.

Posted 03/10/09

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