[Marxism] Russian film on Islamic bad guys

John Enyang x03002f at math.nagoya-u.ac.jp
Fri Mar 17 04:35:19 MST 2006

Apparently produced with significant state backing.



Rating: * * * (out of 5)
Director: Yevgeni Lavrentyev
Running time: 111 minutes
Language: Russian
Opens March 25
[See Japan Times movie listings]

Stalin must be turning in his grave. Finally, it has happened at last: a
Russian action movie in the guise of "Die Hard," in which the lead actor
even looks like Bruce Willis. Russia turns Hollywood. Could this be for

News photo
Alexei Makarov (left) and Louise Lombard in "Countdown"

"Countdown" doesn't give you much time to ponder. The opening scenes
involve an attempted massacre, a chopper chase and a truck going over a
cliff, the camera never wavering for a second as the vehicle
bounce-bounces on the jagged cliff-face before making its long, agonizing
descent to the rocky terrain below. Crrrrash.

Apparently, director Yevgeni Lavrentyev is a stickler for realism. He
gained the full support of the Russian military, and thus all the weapons
and army vehicles used in this movie are genuine. He uses no special
effects, computer-generated-anything and almost zero stunts. You'll see
scenes of a massive IL-76 cargo plane landing sideways and knocking down
buildings with its wings (actual fuel tanks loaded) before crashing into a
pile of concrete. You will see tanks opening fire on a pool of trucks and
hear the subsequent ear-splitting crackle of the mass incineration. All
this would have been unthinkable only 10 years ago, when the Russian
military shown in the movies was pretty much limited to Mig combat planes.

"Countdown," on the other hand, bares all, and the camera often lingers
long and lovingly on military hardware. No wonder weapons fetishists
around the world are salivating over this heavy artillery porn.

In turn, "Countdown" is also unabashed Russian militarist propaganda, with
a party line so bold it would make Gorbachev blush. For one thing, Russian
government agencies act with flawless efficiency and all the bureaucrats
are hard-working good guys.

But more than being heavy-handed patriotism, "Countdown" is fun, it's
entertaining and for all the too-close-to-home-gravity of the subject
matter (Islamic terrorists take over a circus in Moscow and hold 800
people hostage), it's lite, comrade. As far as action movies go,
"Countdown" is pretty comfortable viewing: Though impressively gritty,
it's heaviness free. It's so OK to chew popcorn and hoot at the "bad guys'
" mounting body count. (why would someone hoot at the bad guys' body

Accordingly there's a battered, but cocky superhero, with a perpetual
fresh scar on his cheek, who defies all odds to keep coming back for more.
More action, more heroics, more AK-47 gun barrels to empty into those
nasty Islamic terrorists. And he's based on Maj. Aleksei Smolin, a
real-life Russian intelligence officer who was captured and tortured by
Chechen rebels. He managed to escape and, naturally, become a national

In the movie, the Smolin legend is further expanded. After Smolin (Alexei
Makarov) escapes the rebels, he connects with an attractive British
reporter, Katherine (Louise Lombard), who helps him foil the terrorists.
The formula should be so familiar and yet in this movie it all looks
exotic: The dialogue being mostly in Russian and the political backdrop
the events are played out in just a little more complex that what Bruce
Willis battled (there's more than one group of easily identifiable

"Countdown" can be rough-going in many parts, with sloppy editing and
scene transitions that often seem to make little sense. It helps, however,
that the two leads are extremely likable, especially the burly Makarov as
Smolin, who just refuses to die.

Bullets rain down on him, he gets trapped in upturned trucks, tortured by
terrorists and thrown in a prison cell in a desert camp, etc. When a
bullet hits him, he takes care of the wound by wading into a river in
subzero temperature and swilling his arm in the water. You can imagine his
face (set permanently in squint-eyed, hard-boiled mode) on the label of a
Vodka bottle, with some appropriate slogan. And if I understood Russian
well enough, I imagine he's making the same kind of wisecracks as Bruce
Willis albeit in a much more laconic manner (if he is, the subtitles fail
in this department).

In what is to be their first private conversation, he looks Katherine
straight in the eye and says, "I need to make a phone call." She replies
in a similar, terse manner that she can't get a signal as they're in the
middle of nowhere. "I need to go where there is a signal," he says, and
starts walking.

The movie is full of such samplings of plain-speaking Russian machismo --
before, this had mainly been the territory of baddie KGB agents, but
perhaps it's all part of Russian male sexiness. Now, with "Bruce Willis"
served up, if only they'd give us the Russian Brad Pitt.

More information about the Marxism mailing list