2014’s Oscar category for Best Foreign Language Film came down to a somewhat tight race at the end between BAFTA winner “Ida” from Poland and Golden Globe winner “Leviathan” from Russia. Ultimately the Academy went with the former, but the critics ever so slightly leaned towards the Russian entry, a rather bleak look at a family in a small fishing village. The corrupt mayor, Vadim (Roman Madyanov), is looking to take over the land where Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov) lives with his wife, Lilya (Elena Lyadova), and son, Roma (Sergey Pokhodaev). To help fight against this wrongful takeover, Kolya hires a friend from Moscow, Dmitriy (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), to be his lawyer. At first, Kolya and Dmitriy have the upper-hand, but an unexpected complication arises, throwing the fate of the case, as well as Kolya’s family, into doubt.
For most of the film’s 141-minute runtime, it’s a slow-burning, but compelling, look at a common man trying to fight against a politician, who won’t hesitate to stoop to any tactics to get his way. Despite it seeming like it would be a one-sided fight, Vadim is actually shaken when Dmitriy produces a large amount of dirt on him that turns the case to Kolya’s advantage. However, the second half of the film feels like something rather different, turning it from a kind of “David vs. Goliath” story into an even slower-moving family drama. I have no intention of giving away the plot twist, but I will say that it ends up feeling as though it might have belonged in another film.
There’s still enough to drive the story forward, and we do eventually see how it all fits into the big picture, but one can’t help the feeling that it would have been better had it stayed on the more compelling path instead of turning the focus into a more family-based issue. Regardless, “Leviathan” is able to overcome its slightly-bloated runtime and shifting narrative to deliver an intriguing tale that will have you wondering how it will all work out in the end, or if it will work out well for anyone at all. It may not quite live up to the multiple nominations it received throughout awards season, but there’s still enough here to recommend giving this engaging drama a chance.
“Leviathan” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality, featuring an outstanding image that remains perfectly sharp and clear throughout despite the film’s mostly drab look. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio has volume problems every now and again, particularly with the dialogue, but with most viewers depending on the subtitles, it’s not an issue to cause much concern. Overall, the film has been given pretty good treatment, ensuring a decent experience from both areas.
Commentary with the Director and Producer: Here we have a track that explores different areas of the film such as the score, filming locations, and the characters. While they do talk about several different topics, sadly it’s a mostly bland track that doesn’t hold much interest.
The Making of Leviathan: A fascinating 30-minute featurette that is nothing but behind the scenes footage of the film being made.
Toronto International Film Festival Q&A: A 15-minute Q&A with the director, who discusses such topics as the writing and inspiration for the story. Worth watching if you want to learn a little more about the film.
Deleted Scenes: 22 minutes of material that is split between alternate takes of scenes that are already in the film and little pieces that didn’t quite make the cut. Not particularly worth the time to watch.
Despite having slight issues with an overlong runtime and a narrative that downshifts in the second half, “Leviathan” manages to power through with a compelling story and a beautifully-crafted look. It’s a very bleak film, but the strong characters and performances drive it along to the point where we become invested in the outcome, wherever it may lead. Delving through some rather dark areas, it may not be the most comfortable viewing experience, but even so, it’s worth it to take the journey.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting Tuesday.
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