Leviathan

Released:  2014

Cast:  Aleksei Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Roman Madyanov

Oscar Nominations:  Best Foreign Language Film (Russia)

SUMMARY:  In northern Russia, the mayor of Pribrezhny (a fictional town) is trying to force mechanic Kolya (Alesksei Serebryakov) off the property his family has owned for years.  The mayor, Vadim (Roman Madyanov) claims that he wants to build a telecom mast on the property, and is trying to legally seize the land.  He has offered to pay Kolya for the property, but his offer is much lower than what the land is worth.  Kolya, who lives with his second wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova) and son Roma, has a quick temper, and believes that Vadim simply wants to build himself a new house there.  He is determined to keep his property, and hires an old attorney friend, Dima (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) to stop the sale.  Dima immediately sets to work filing papers, but is hindered by Kolya’s temper and the corruption of the local police.  After a shouting match with some officers, Kolya is held in jail for a few days.  Dima ultimately goes to see Vadim himself, and presents a file full of incriminating evidence against the mayor (from the distant past all the way to the present).  Vadim refuses to stop the seizure, but agrees to pay Kolya a fair price.  While Kolya is in jail, his largely ignored and unhappy wife Lilya has begun an affair with Dima.  Kolya is soon released from jail, and the family, including Dima, go on a picnic with friends to celebrate a birthday.  During the excursion, Roma sees Dima and Lilya together and alerts the others; Kolya attacks both of them.

Back in town, Vadim is seeking guidance from his local Orthodox bishop, who is also a close friend.  The bishop tells Vadim that his power as the mayor comes from God, and that he should use that power to solve his problems.  Kolya and the others return from their picnic, and Lilya comes back to Kolya; they seem to agree to try to work things out.  Not long after, Vadim kidnaps Dima under the guise of talking about the case, and has him brutally beaten.  Dima is then told to go back home to Moscow, and he obeys.  Meanwhile, Kolya and his family are packing their belongings and preparing to move.  Roma becomes upset at his father and Lilya’s (not his mother) reconciliation, and blames Lilya for the problems besetting the family.  Sometime during the night, Lilya gets up and leaves the house.  In the afternoon, Kolya learns that she never showed up for work, and nobody has seen her.  He believes that she has gone to Moscow to be with Dima, but a few days later her dead body is found.  Kolya struggles to cope with this, and is told by a priest about Job, a man faced with myriad issues in the Bible.  When Job stopped fighting and accepted his fate, he lived a long and happy life.  The day after this, the police arrest Kolya for Lilya’s murder.  All of the evidence points against him:  he made death threats against her after finding out about the affair, and a possible murder weapon was found in his shop.  In his trial Kolya is convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in maximum security.  Roma is thus left all alone, but is taken in by some family friends.  After Kolya’s sentencing, Vadim gets a call notifying him of the results; he states that Kolya got what he deserved for opposing the mayor.  Kolya’s house is razed, and Vadim builds a huge Orthodox church on the property, where the bishop preaches.

MY TAKE:  When I read the summary of this movie, I thought it was going to be a courtroom drama, with this average joe trying to fight the corrupt officials of his town.  That is not at all what happened.  In fact, you never see any courtroom fights between Vadim and Kolya.  Actually, the court case is mainly a device to further the plot — it is the motive for how Vadim reacts.  The movie mainly focuses on the characters, rather than the action, and it’s supremely boring.  Kolya is a jerk.  He drinks almost constantly (actually, all of the characters do — it’s a wonder they could still speak coherently), is mean to Lilya and has only fleeting interest in his son.  It’s small wonder that Lilya cheated on him, because he’s just nasty to her — insults her, belittles her and then ignores her.  Dima is a wimp — I expected more fight out of a lawyer.  Basically, it’s like a overlong, boring mob movie, where the bad guy gets exactly what he wants at the end.  Ironically, he builds a church on the property.  There is no sort of satisfying, corruption-busting, good-guy-the-rescue ending, or even moment.

RATING:  Not good.

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