Archangel Made in: Great Britain, Russia (location) Language: English, Russian Director: Jon Jones Starring: Daniel Craig, Yekaterina Rednikova, Gabriel Macht, Lev Prygunov, Valery Chernyak, Alexey Diakov, Avtandil Makharadze Year: 2005
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD - Stop reading if you are drunk enough to actually want to rent this movie. But continue on to save yourself several hours of your valuable time
Synopsis: This was a 3-part feature made for TV, produced by our friends at the BBC. The story is about Professor Fluke Kelso (Daniel Craig), a renowned Russian history scholar who seems to have made a career out of trashing Joseph Stalin (played by Avtandil Makharadze).
While on a conference in Moscow, he is confronted by a mysterious old man named Papu Rapav (Valery Chernyak). Rapav claims to have witnessed the death of Stalin back in the "old days," and mentions the existence of a secret diary which was confiscated by the secret police. The diary was then put into a small toolbox and buried in the police chief's backyard.
Skeptical at first, Kelso decides that Rapav's story is worth investigating. Soon, he realizes that others are also interested in obtaining the diary's secrets. One such character is Vladimir Mamantov (Lev Prygunov), a powerful politician and communist hardliner who used to work for the KGB. He would love to see a return to the happy days of Stalin.
In an effort to track down Rapav, Kelso finds the old man's estranged daughter, Zinaida (Yekaterina Rednikova). Zinaida works as a high-priced escort to help finance her education as a law student. But things get ugly when Rapav turns up dead. After getting thrown in jail by incompetent police (for simply reporting the incident), Kelso is sprung by an FSB agent named Suvorin (Alexey Diakov), who immediately urges the professor to leave.
But soon Bond - I mean, Kelso - meets up with Zinaida again, a bunch of stuff happens, then they are joined by an annoying American reporter named R.J. O'Brian (Gabriel Macht). They come across the diary, which had been dug up by Rapav and then hidden in his tool shed.
The diary turns out to be written by a young girl named Anna (Anna Gerasimova), who was secretly chosen to be the mother of Stalin's heir. So it turns out that Joe Stalin has a secret love child running around in the region of Arkhangelsk (Archangel).
Kelso and Zinaida race to go find him, and then they are joined by O'Brian. It turns out that Stalin Jr. lives in the woods someplace with adopted parents, and somehow speaks English. He spends most of his time hunting animals while walking around with a creepy expression on his face. He gets drunk with Kelso and O'Brian, puts on some music, then forces the two men to dance with each other (I'm serious).
Then, the opportunistic O'Brian broadcasts the existence of Stalin's son. The plot of Archangel "culminates" when it turns out that Mamantov's secret scheme was to install the young Stalin as Russia's new leader just as news of his existence reaches the whole world! (Insert evil laughter here).
The Good: Daniel Craig does a great job, doing all he can with a hokey script/story. He definitely has some James Bond moments, although he wouldn't take on the role of 007 until 2006.
The rest of the actors are good and much of the film is in Russian (and not populated by actors simply speaking with fake Russian accents). For a TV budget, the whole thing looked decent.
I admit the first episode of Archangel caught my interest, as it seemed to set up an intriguing story that had opportunities to make intelligent social/cultural commentary. But then...
The Bad: The completely outlandish storyline of Archangel simply outweighed any positive aspects of the film. I mean...the secret son of Stalin? COME ON. This seemed more like the plot of a direct-to-video comedy or a side-joke in an episode of the Simpsons.
And if Stalin really did have a son who's still alive and running around...then so what? How could we be sure that he'd even be interested in politics? What if he had different hobbies, like stamp collecting or fishing? If he's a private citizen minding his own business, there's really no reason for the authorities (or anyone else) to bother him. It's silly assume that this revelation would certainly bring some sort of cataclysmic change to the course of Russia's future.
And once the big twist was revealed, it's never clear as to what Daniel Craig intends to do with the young Stalin once he found him.
Also disappointing is the portrayal of Russia itself. Instead of being a commentary of the Western world's misconceptions about Russia, Archangel seems to reinforce every Hollywood stereotype about the country. According to this movie:
1. Moscow and Arkhangelsk are dangerous and ominous places where the sun never shines
2. Russians are extremely unhelpful and will punch you in the face if you ask too many questions
3. Russian men were all members of the KGB at some point and will punch you in the face if you ask too many questions
4. Communist sympathizers are everywhere
5. Communist sympathizers are always plotting to overthrow the government (if they're not busy punching you in the face)
6. All Russian women are hot prostitutes, and if you ask them too many questions they will punch you in the face
7. Being a Russian history expert wandering the streets of Moscow is about as safe as being a gay Jewish person wandering the streets of Tehran
Overall, Archangel was a really disappointing presentation by the BBC. The overall premise was just way too ridiculous, and by the end, it just became a laughable mess and colossal waste of time. It should have stuck to being a straightforward thriller.
Winston Churchill once said that Russia "is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."
A Netflix member wrote that Archangel was "a riddle, wrapped in a horrible script, inside a steaming turd." Although I try not to be quite as sophomoric in my assessments of bad films, I might be inclined to agree.