Night Watch (Ночной дозор) Made in: Russia Language: Russian Director: Temor Bekmambetov Starring: Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov Based on the novel by Sergei Lukyanenko Year: 2004
Synopsis: For thousands of years, there have been those living among us with supernatural powers known as "Others." The "Others" are split into 2 camps, Light and Dark (Good & Evil). During an epic battle resulting in a stalemate, a truce was called.
The terms of the truce stated that Others could only choose Light or Dark out of their own free will, and that Light and Dark Others were forbidden from killing, attacking, or otherwise bothering each other too much. Violation of the truce would result in an all out messy war. And so over the ages, the forces of Good and Evil kept tabs on each other.
The Good guys became Night Watch, and the Bad guys became Day Watch. Since they lived among ordinary people and were indistinguishable from them in appearance, Others often traveled into the Gloom, a dark inter-dimensional realm invisible to humans, where they could easily spot/communicate/talk smack to each other.
The truce was kept for centuries, but a prophecy told of a powerful Other that would one day rise and disrupt the balance forever. Whichever side this Other chose would ultimately triumph in this epic struggle.
Enter the troubled protagonist, Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky). Through a harrowing experience involving black magic (going into detail about this would be a plot spoiler) he discovers that he's an Other (specifically, a vampire) and chooses to side with Night Watch.
A reluctant hero of sorts, twelve years later he is assigned to rescue a boy (a powerful Other wanted by the Dark side). In the process he kills a Dark Other and finds himself in a heap of trouble from the supernatural realm's legal side. To make matters more complicated, the boy turns out to be his estranged son from a broken marriage.
On top of that, there's a cursed woman walking around causing death and destruction by her mere presence, and it turns out her very existence is a sign that the prophecy of worldwide Armageddon is about to be fulfilled. This causes both Dark and Light sides to make massive preparations as many bottles of vodka are consumed.
The Good: Director Bekmambetov tells the story through great camera work and impressive visual flair. It's creative and bold, the visuals are stunning, and the cast is solid. As dense as the narrative is, this morality tale never becomes self-indulgent.
At first, Night Watch presents itself as a tale of good versus evil, but winds up being much deeper. I suppose that Russian films, as well as literature, tend to delve into (and sometimes loses itself in) the layered complexities of human character/frailty. Night Watch is no exception. Good and Evil, according to Bekmambetov, is not quite as simple as Light and Dark.
Anton learns that the path of good is neither easy nor clear, especially when his emotions conflict with the moral obligations governing Night Watch. One of the most powerful messages, however, is the way in which evil is defined: not necessarily through evil acts, but through good deeds done at the wrong time.
The cliffhanger ending plays out like a Greek tragedy, and is further explored in the sequel, Day Watch. This is the first film in a trilogy. The books however, are a tetralogy (4 stories).
There also seems to be a number of references, possibly allegoric, specific to Russian history, culture, and politics. I admit that being an expert in none of those three subjects might have affected my viewing experience.
The Bad: Although I enjoyed this movie, I thought it was really weird. It made me think of a dark, violent version of Harry Potter only it was Russian and had lots of drinking in it.
In the US release, some scenes were removed for American audiences but it's unclear as to why. Parts of the plot-line either end abruptly or aren't fully explored.
For example, there's a sorceress named Olga who's assigned to help Anton, and even though her character is supposed to be important, she doesn't end up doing much. The diminishing of her role, I'm willing to bet, had more to do with marketing than a deliberate editorial decision.
There were also some problems with narrative logic. Anton and a few of the other characters are vampires but their vampirism doesn't turn out to be all that relevant. This is not a vampire movie, and furthermore the vampires are able to come out during the day.
I'm assuming this is a narrative flaw based on what we Americans understand to be vampires. Who knows? Maybe the vampires of Russian movies are different. Until I know for sure, I'm blaming it on Chernobyl.
The powers possessed by the Others wasn't fully explained either. Although some clearly had specific abilities, it was hard to determine just what the hell the other ones were able to do or not do. I got the vague notion that some were psychic and some had healing powers of some sort, but again, the filmmakers weren't specific enough.
Either that or I missed something.
Who would like this movie: Russian movies are always fascinating, but if you're just in the mood for some mindless action (and there's nothing wrong with that) skip this one. It's just too bizarre.
But see this action movie if you already have an interest in Russian movies, or if you're already an avid foreign film aficionado.
I also highly recommend this movie if you like fantasy and science fiction movies, novels, comic books, or video games containing dense storylines and complicated plot twists.
You would take interest, if not appreciate, Night Watch while picking up a few Russian phrases along the way. And c'mon, it's a trilogy! I know you sci-fi/pop culture junkies love trilogies!