Brief Thoughts: Leviathan (Movie Review)

I really enjoy putting my reviews together.  I honestly wish I could delve deeper into certain movies, but alas, I get incredibly busy and can sometimes only deal with movies to a briefer extent than I would prefer.  This is why I write these occasional "Brief Thoughts" posts on movies I have seen, as I want to at least offer some of my own perspective on them.  They may not be as polished, but I can at least get my opinions out there.  This brief thought is a review for the Oscar nominated foreign drama Leviathan.

Leviathan: 4 out of 5

I am so happy to be all in on these types of dramas.  Leviathan is a 140-minute Russian drama about a man living in a Russian coastal town, who is forced to deal with a corrupt mayor wanting to take away his land.  There are many other characters involved, various turns in the story, and a lot of symbolism both religious and otherwise (this story is a modern reworking of the Book of Job), but my main takeaway was how engaged I was throughout a film like this, given the dreariness of the scenarios and even the setting presented.  The story is not striving to be any sort of ambitious new take on a cinematic tragedy, but it is quite well-acted, well-assembled, and far more interesting than lesser attempts that layer the melodrama a bit to thick.

Writer/director Andrey Zvyagintsev does not quite make a film that I would place as high as something like past Oscar-winner A Separaition or Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi's follow-up film, The Past, but Leviathan does manage to do a great job of building a sense of tension in a film that begins as a simple enough drama, only to escalate, as various characters find themselves in deeper and deeper predicaments, with no clear answer as to what to do.  This is best represented with the film's lead character, Kolya (Alexei Serebriakov), who is hotheaded but not at all deserving of the sorts of torments he is made to suffer.  Watching him deal with the sort of things thrown at him allows the film to have one think of why everything happened this way, what they would have done, and what to take from it all.  Yes, most movies (dramas in particular) have these sort of intentions, but given how this film plays out at the pace it does, a certain mood is created to have you really consider what is going on and think with these characters, who we see do a lot of thinking themselves.

The film is also gorgeous to look at.  Similar to a film like Calvary (which would be an excellent film to double feature with this one), Zvyagintsev has not chosen his location by mistake.  The shots of the  Barents Sea, the low tide, the community as a whole, and more do plenty to further inform the tone of this story and provide a level of understanding as to what to take from the lead characters who live in this land versus the one(s) who don't.  Cinematographer Mikhail Krichman does a fabulous job of not only delivering on the poster image, which is plenty evocative in itself, but in other shots that focus on a character amidst a large background or isolated in some way.

Leviathan is truly terrific and while I know it has one the Golden Globe and could potentially win the Oscar as well, I can only hope the other foreign films currently up for awards are just as strong (I have seen Ida and it most certainly is).  That in mind, there is a chance I may not have otherwise given this film a look if it were not for the kind of acclaim I had been made quite aware of, but while that helped draw me in, I would want people that need a strong drama like this to check out this film, as it really does operate on a level far above average and manages to engage, despite the sort of bleakness one will be watching unfold.


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