Friday, September 9, 2011

Nightwatch: A Strange Disappointment.

The Good: Visually intriguing, Moments of concept
The Bad: More frenetic than sensible, DVD bonus features, Somewhat obvious plot, Acting
The Basics: After two viewings, I give up and accept that maybe Night Watch truly is just a bad film where style is put ahead of substance.

Have you ever watched a movie and when it was done, you just sat up and asked yourself, "What the hell was that that I just watched?!" It's tough to evaluate a movie like that, one where it might be stylish and visually different, but it lacks substance or sensibility. I know I felt that way about Mullholland Drive, one of the few movies I am aching to see a fifth time before I review it. Right now, in the wake of my second viewing of Night Watch, I am feeling the same way.

Night Watch is a Russian film, a fantasy/science fiction/horror epic defined as the first in a trilogy by director Timur Bekmambetov, based upon the novels of Sergei Lukyenenko. One must assume that Lukyenenko is an especially gifted writer to have inspired a movie like Night Watch; in order for this to be an adaptation, one assumes the novelist must have had it all together in a way director Bekmembetov does not. Throughout much of the movie, dubbed into English on the DVD for us ugly Americans, things happen at a ridiculous speed and without a strong sense of logic guiding it.

In short, this is a movie that looks real good, but it does not make a lot of sense.

In the world, there are Others. The Others look human, but they are actually ancient warriors in the battle of good versus evil. Following a truce that is forged on the eve of mutual Armageddon between the forces of good and evil, the Light Others, establish the Night Watch to make sure the Dark Others do not directly influence the humans. In Moscow, the Night Watch unit is active and eagerly awaiting an Other of immense power who will tip the balance between good and evil forever by either joining the Night Watch or the Dark Others.

Anton Gorodetsky is a guy that comes to realize that he is an Other when he tries to have his ex-girlfriend killed using a sorceress. Anton does contract work for the Night Watch (it seems) because he has the ability to see inside people, tell which side they are on and a host of other powers that come up as needed in the course of the movie. Soon, Anton is tracking a boy, who might well be the Prophecy Child as well as a woman who has been cursed and somehow relates to the prophecy.

Along the way, Anton encounters vampires, killers, Dark Others and weird calamities. There are invisible menaces, an owl doll that turns into a woman - having been trapped for years in the form of the owl for quite some time - and women that look remarkably alike. He is rescued by the Night Watch, killing a vampire whose lover hunts him and the child of prophecy for most of the rest of the movie. And as Prophecy Kid gets closer to her, his mother - who bears a curse - has a massive vortex of flying birds over her head.

Writing all of that out makes Night Watch actually sound pretty darn cool, but the problem with it is that all of that stuff that I just wrote came while taking copious notes during the SECOND viewing. In the first, things went along so very fast that they made little or no sense. Indeed, often enough so much is happening and with such frenetic camera movements that the viewer has absolutely no idea what is actually happening.

Fundamentally, the problem with Night Watch is that much that happens seems to be more for style as opposed to substance. So, for example, a screw falls out of a plane and does a minute long descent into a drain pipe, into a home, into a cup of coffee held by . . . the mother or the one worker for Night Watch. Yes, that's another problem. First, the style thing. What is the point of illustrating that the screw falls from the plane as a way to introduce the one character? There is none. Neither is there a point to many of the disappearances and visions that Anton has while looking around at the world. When looking at the child of destiny, he is able to see him just as a collection of blood vessels, then the kid goes invisible and he has a vision of the vortex over the woman.

Then there is the other - and this is a fundamental - problem: the casting. I'm not one who would argue for affirmative action in casting; you tell the story with the people who best serve the story. But Night Watch has some serious problems in that too many of the main characters are cast to look like one another. So, for example, Prophecy Boy's mother (referred to because none of the IMDB listings have pictures next to them AND in the movie the names are not given with any frequency - if I had to guess, though, I'd say Prophecy Boy is Yegor and Cursed Mother is Irina) and the one woman who works for Night Watch look virtually identical, wear their hair the same way and are basically the same frame, hair color and length. This becomes terribly problematic in telling who is who when both share a scene. At least the vampire woman is a brunette and she's pretty distinctive.

Similarly, Anton looks nothing like he does after the opening scene, making one wonder if the guy in the first scene is just a random guy trying to illustrate how the Night Watch works to take out Dark Others.

In fact, the whole concept is severely undermined because of the style issues. What, for example, is the point of the Night Watch bus being flipped over a guy by his psychic powers other than to remind us that the Others are out there? We don't need the reminder: the van is on the way to rescue Anton! Is it to illustrate another unique power of the Others? Everyone has a power - they come up at plot convenient moments! So, for example, when Yegor is killed, Anton reveals he has the ability to resurrect him.

The only seemingly consistent power is that they are all immortal, as evidenced by most of the Others seen later in the film being shown during the prologue.

The acting is nothing to write home about either. Often lead actor Konstantin Khabensky looks just as confused as the viewer.

The only thing more annoying than the actual movie is the DVD presentation. There is no commentary track. Instead, when discussing the Night Watch Trilogy, the director appears to smugly tell the viewer that the next movie makes a lot more sense and he is not going to explain this one. There is an extended ending, but it is much the same as the rest of the film; frenetic, bloody and pointless.

I came to Night Watch eager, ready, engaged and coming away from it, all I am is disappointed in how lame it ended up being and annoyed because I'm a smart person and I feel like my time was wasted trying to figure this movie out.

For other weird films, please check out my reviews of:
The City Of Lost Children
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus


For other film reviews, please click here to visit my index page!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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