Friday, 23 August 2013
Yuri Bykov: They Major - Майор (2013) with Trailer
Director: Yuri Bykov
Writer: Yuri Bykov
Stars: Yuri Bykov, Ilya Isayev, Dmitriy Kulichkov
Like an episode of The Shield transplanted to the snow-swept Russian countryside, writer-director Yuri Bykov’s The Major is a tense, handheld police thriller filled with scores of dirty cops, scenes of abrupt violence and a relentless, overriding sense of nastiness. It’s also rather heavy-handed in certain parts, and not necessarily original in the story department, but its rapid pacing and potent performances should make it a viable pickup for distributors specializing in exotic genre fare.
Premiering in competition in the Critics’ Week sidebar, Bykov’s second feature, following 2010’s Live!, is also a one-man-band affair, with the filmmaker credited as writer, editor and composer, as well as playing a character who gets a major ass-whipping from various members of the local police force. So while there’s no doubt that the 32-year-old Bykov is entirely committed to his art, he also overreaches in places -- especially with the film’s excessive score -- but otherwise shows a knack for building intense set-pieces, including a nail-biting precinct shootout that makes strong use of off-screen space and vivid sound design (courtesy of Alexander Noskov). Set within a single 24-hour period, the action kicks off quickly enough with commander Sergey Sobolev (Denis Shvedov) racing his SUV across icy country roads to join his wife, who’s giving birth at a clinic in nearby Ryazan, a small city southeast of Moscow. Along the way, his car skids into a 7-year-old boy, killing him instantly. But rather than calling an ambulance or doing anything remotely reasonable, Sobolev takes the kid’s wailing mother, Irina (Irina Nizina), hostage and phones a fellow officer, Pasha (Ilya Isaev), to come in and clean up the mess.
What follows is one very long day of unethical policing, as Sobolev and Pasha try to cover up the accident in order to save the “integrity” (quotes intended) of their department. They dupe Irina into drinking, taking a blood sample so they can blame the death on her. When she refuses to sign the statement, Pasha beats the bejesus out of her scrubby husband (Bykov), who comes back to the station wielding a shotgun and holding two officers prisoner.
The bloody chain of events spirals further and further out of control, until Sobolev winds up taking stock of his actions, leading to a denouement that will ultimately pit him against the corrupt unit he was so desperately trying to protect.
Filmed in real locations with lots of gritty, over-the-shoulder camerawork by Kirill Klepalov, The Major is mostly a well-paced and directed affair, even if Bykov misses some plot points (whatever happened to the wife?) and resorts to dramatic overkill in order to prove his point—basically that Russian law enforcement is one big drunken mother lode of corruption.
Shot mostly on a Red camera by Kirill Klepalov with lots of handheld skittishness, “The Major” has the same percussive drive and hardboiled swagger as men-on-the-run thriller “To Live,” but this time it’s in service of a more sophisticated script. At times, the pic feels like the pilot for a TV procedural but with dingier sets, more swearing and a very Slavic sense of miserabilism. No one here harbors any illusions that the police are there to uphold justice and the law; mostly they’re just thugs in uniform, although there are shades and gradations of thuggery here that mark some as more sympathetic than others, nuances that come out via a fine cast of familiar character thesps.