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Night Watch

A movie directed by Timbor Bekmambetov

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Special for the special effects

  • Jun 16, 2008
Pros: Visually stunning, generally engaging plot

Cons: Requires close attention, story sometimes difficult to follow

The Bottom Line: First of a trilogy, has plot problems because of this, but is all in all worth the effort. The telling is stunning.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.

Before going into the story and analysis, I have to say that you have to be prepared to watch the film twice. The special effects are the most special I can think of. The Matrix franchise was great for the time, but overdone to the extreme so it is now almost impossible to remember them in their context (for full disclosure, I despised all of the Matrix movies—I watched the last two muted just to watch the effects). The effects in Night Watch will likely distract from the story which is pretty complex. So if you get lost in the effects, either watch it to the end and repeat, or back up and watch scene by scene as you determine necessary. The DVD comes with the option of Russian with English subtitles on one side or dubbed English on the other. I far prefer the original language, but you do have the option here.

Thousands of years ago, the forces of good and evil met on a bridge and fought what has to be the mother of all bloody battles. After a time, Geser (Vladimir Menshov) sued for a truce with Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky). Each man speaks the details of the truce into the ears of one peasant, who becomes The Inquisition. The Inquisition’s purpose is to maintain the truce. The men knew that from that day forward people would be born who would be considered “other,” meaning they had a specific power unknown to them at first and the ability to enter what is called The Gloom. The truce is that each “other” would be given the choice to be good or evil and that neither side could influence the decision.

In 1992 Russia, Anton Konstantin Khabensky) goes to what amounts to a witch for purposes I will not expose. During this, Anton discovers he can enter The Gloom. Now fast forward a bit. Each side knew there would be at least one Great Other whose choice would decide the fate of the world. In 2004 Russia, both sides believe that they have found him.

Here the movie splits into two storylines. First is the hunt for the Great Other. The second storyline is a fabled curse that is now real and causing serious problems in Moscow. The men and women on each side have to deal with the curse and the Great Other. This is a lengthy summary that I have been careful to use to tease but hopefully not give anything away.

What makes the movie more than a simple good v evil story is the telling and the mood. The setting is easier to deal with so I will start there.

Director Timur Bekmambetov takes a page or two from David Fincher’s Se7en and Fight Club to create an environment of grimy and dingy places that make the viewer claustrophobic if not that and feeling the need to shower. Rarely is the lighting bright enough to see corners; given this is a thriller, shadows give ample space for any number of hidden possibilities. This, of course, adds a level of anxiety that goes beyond the standard anxiety thrillers tend to demand.

Music also plays a significant part in creating the mood. I am not a fan of anything approaching heavy metal music, but a film like this one demands the type of aggressive sound that genre creates. What makes it more effective is that it is used sparingly, typically during chase scenes where there is little or no dialog and when fight scenes also involve little or no dialog.

Mr. Bekmambetov presents the characters in an ironic way. The evil are clean and in relatively new clothes; the good are worse for wear as are their clothes. This is a perfect spot to go into why.

Evil need do nothing special. Good has to fight. It only makes sense that the good side would have a battered white hat—after all, this is Russia and this isn’t a John Ford western.

The telling is very much an epic. You get an outline at the beginning (think of the creation of the Inquisition as asking the muses for assistance) then the story really starts more towards the middle than not. Therefore the information you get from the film is going to be incomplete. This isn’t really a drawback. Night Watch is part of a trilogy, so you would expect some holes rather than have one gaping hole at the end; well scattered loose ends is a hallmark of mature storytelling. If you are a fan of Halo, then you have a pretty good idea what this means. If loose ends bother you, then wait to watch the film until the other two films are complete.

For the actors, unfortunately, the acting is not something that is noticeable. The good thing about this is that no one stands out as being bad; it is just that no one stands out as particularly good. There is ample eye candy and that can catch attention, but that is the actor, not the character.

I won’t say the story is particularly engaging because it never seems to grab hold on its own; it requires the viewer to do more work than usual for a thriller. Most of this is due to the structure, but people accustomed to the more common structure of thriller will be disappointed or bored. Still, I never found myself bored—I wouldn’t have bothered to watch it a second time if I found it dull or offensive.


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More Night Watch reviews
review by . December 26, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Based upon a novel by Sergei Lukyanenko, NIGHTWATCH is an action-packed, cinematically illuminating film from Russia about the individual decisions that people make and how those choices and affect the struggle between good and evil. The movie begins with a prologue explaining that there people who live in the world who resemble humans, but are not. These people are known as Others. The exist in our world, but also live in a plane separate from it. Others have an incredibly long lifespan and have …
review by . August 17, 2006
Night Watch is a refreshing take on the good versus evil battle, without yawning anthologies and preaching as its concise, to the point and draws the watcher in and doesn't let go unless some scenes are so obscure that you need to pause the TV and sit there and ponder the images that seared the brain. It's part one of a grand trilogy taking place in modern Moscow, unknown's to the humans there, a breeding ground for shape shifters who can turn into bears and tigers, vampires, sinister cursed characters …
review by . July 27, 2006
And after that it went all over the place. A number of reviewers stand correct on this film regarding its ups and downs base on the production. There are a number of movies you can describe this to. To me personally it was a blend of `The Matrix,' a dash of `Constantine,' with a hint of `Under World,' place it the oven you get `Night Watch' done in one hour and fifty four minutes.     It's hard to believe that this film was only done with $4 million, that's like pocket change …
review by . June 20, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
I'm not going to comment on the film in general, since there are lots of reviews that have already done that. I enjoyed it quite a bit -- a nice and inventive twist on supernatural/superhero/good vs. evil themed films, with the advantage that cultural differences between the United States and Russia make this one feel a bit more quirky than the usual fare. While the film is obviously inspired by post-Matrix Hollywood sci-fi, its story and style are distinctive enough, and dark enough, to render …
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Paul Savage ()
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Night Watchis that rare film that--likeThe Matrix--is not only visually dazzling but creates an intriguing, seductive, and thrilling alternative world. A young man named Anton, after dabbling in black magic to bring back the wife who left him, discovers that the world is populated by fantastical Others (vampires, shape-shifters, witches, and more) who have chosen sides--Light or Dark--in an epic battle. A truce has been declared; both sides watch the other to ensure the truce is maintained. But a prophecy has predicted that a powerful Other will tilt the balance, and Anton--who is himself an Other--finds himself crucial to the prophecy's fulfillment. There's no question thatNight Watchhas weaknesses. Numerous plot holes get glossed over by pell-mell pacing, the visual conception of the apocalyptic battle between Light and Dark is curiously pedestrian (a bunch of knights fighting a bunch of guys in fur with swords--what happened to their various powers?), and more--but, much like similar problems withThe Matrix, it doesn't matter.

The alternative world Night Watch presents is so rich with possibilities that it takes on a life of its own, both as an imaginative universe and as a vivid metaphor for the moral complexities of our own lives--for example, though the forces of Light claim to be good, their often brutal actions call their virtue into question, and the forces of Dark make some compelling moral arguments on the topic. The movie is so overstuffed with ideas ...

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Director: Timbor Bekmambetov
Genre: Foreign
Release Date: 2005
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: June 20, 2006
Runtime: 1hr 45min
Studio: 20th Century Fox
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