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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.46%
Worth A Look: 22.97%
Average: 27.03%
Pretty Bad28.38%
Total Crap: 12.16%

8 reviews, 26 user ratings

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Night Watch
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by Jay Seaver

"A successful start, in that I'd like to see part 2."
3 stars

I'm not sure what to think about movies like "Night Watch". I don't really find them satisfying while sitting in the theater, but when the film reaches its end, I really want to see what's going to happen next. I suppose that makes the film a successful "part one", if we assume that the commercial goal of a first installment is to make part two an even bigger hit.

Night Watch spends a fair amount of time setting up the story's world. It posits that people with supernatural powers, the "Others", exist in secret within the more mundane world. Hundreds of years ago, they prepared to meet in battle, but seeing that the armies were evenly matched, Geser (Vladimir Menshov), the leader of the Light faction, and his Dark counterpart Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky) struck a truce, Night and Day Watches to police the opposing factions. Flash forward to 1992, where we meet Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky), whose attempt to hire the services of a sorceress reveals him as an Other. He chooses Light and joins the Night Watch. Twelve years later, while chasing a pair of vampires stalking a young boy (Dmitri Martynov), he stumbles upon Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina), a young woman struck with a curse rapidly growing toward the apocalyptic. To make matters worse, the Day Watch becomes involved when he kills one of the vampires, despite his claims of self-defense.

Writer/director Timur Bekmambetov (working from an original novel by Sergei Lukyanenko) builds a fantasy world that is convincing in its blend of the supernatural and the modern. The Others have not reached the twenty-first century by ignoring the advance of science and technology or saying that the scientists don't understand how the world really works; vampires reference transplants of pig organs to explain why they can survive on pig's blood and a member of the Night Watch tracks the progress of Svetlana's curse by how it affects weather patterns. The setting is also, perhaps, influenced by the Soviet Union and the chaos that followed its fall: One's neighbors aren't to be trusted, bureaucracy and paperwork are pervasive, and the legitimate government is weak enough that powerful underground societies are believable. It also helps that very few Others appear to be as powerful as Geser, Zavulon, and the one who cursed Svetlana; I often wonder why the prolific magic-users of Buffy or Harry Potter are able to stay hidden.

Bekmambetov's visual style is impressive, as well. He goes with a lot of black, of course, but his world is grimy as opposed to Wachowski-slick. Anton doesn't quite look cool in his sunglasses, and in fact there are few improbably attractive characters (folks look good, but not like they make looking good a huge priority). Ilya (Aleksandr Samojlenko), a sort of were-bear who works with Anton, is downright greasy. The whole setting is run-down without looking like the filmmakers have been cheap or lazy about it. There's some pretty spiffy special effects, such as how vampires (and vampire-hunters) sense humans as the blood in their veins. And kudos to whoever is responsible for the subtitles: Intuitively, the way they flash, dissolve, and appear places other than bottom-center would seem distracting, but in practice, it integrates the translation into the film's visual style while still making them readable.

Despite all that, the film still has its problems. Although the action sequences are impressively staged, they're often cut together too quickly, making for some choppy scenes. As much as I enjoy the misdirection as to which storyline between the curse and the vampires is the A-plot and which is the B-story, having them split so equally can at times make it feel neither is truly crucial. The richness of the backstory sometimes seems to work against just getting the story told. A big issue is made of Olga (Galina Tyunina) having committed some crime in the past that was punishable by transmogrification, but if it pays off, it won't be until the second film. Lots of characters, such as pop-star/Dark Other assassin Alisa, are given pretty short shrift.

The cast is pretty decent. Khabensky seems a little flat through much of the movie, and his scenes as the younger Anton at the start are a little broad. He brings it when it counts during the last act, though. Samojlenko is good comic relief as "Bear", and Ms. Poroshina intrigues as Svetlana. Anna Dubrovskaya is also noteworthy as Larisa, the recently-turned vampiress who is in turns pathetic and a dangerous adversary.

"Night Watch" is kind of a mess, but out of that mess comes promise for the second installment. I don't know whether "Day Watch" will deliver on that promise, but I must admit to being curious.

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originally posted: 03/21/06 17:10:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2005 Fantasia Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/21/17 morris campbell solid horror fantasy film plots a bit messy though 4 stars
5/15/10 Alex Thorne calling this Russia's version of The Matrix is unjustified. Night Watch is Much Better! 5 stars
4/12/10 mr.mike It was mildly diverting. 3 stars
11/22/07 fools♫gold Curse me for not thinking of a quote! I won't forget my watch of this. 5 stars
8/02/07 TigerSlap Erik Childress is a pseudo-intellectual A-hole - this movie is good! 5 stars
10/25/06 Marc I will never get those 2 hours back 2 stars
8/11/06 Dominick AWESOME MOVE.. don't listen to this Erik asshole 5 stars
6/13/06 Michael Good review, but the movies was overblown. 2 stars
3/28/06 Danny Johanson This movie was absolutely excellent and visually stunning. 5 stars
3/06/06 Mushuga See the Russian version!!!! Because...well...that one sucks, too. 1 stars
3/06/06 Butterbean Appears to be setting us up for a better sequel. Please stop shaking cameras for "action". 3 stars
3/03/06 Roger Warner I was entertained. 4 stars
3/03/06 Mungface From the ads and the advanced hype, I didn't expect something so bland. 3 stars
3/01/06 Darren Shea Visuallly inventive, but hampered by a confusing plot. 3 stars
2/28/06 Ole Man Bourbon A very boring combination of Matrix: Revolutions and Dr. Quinn, Medecine Woman. Awful. 1 stars
2/28/06 Joshua Keep in mind its for russian, not western audiences. Starts solid then gets very silly. 3 stars
2/25/06 Bitchum Not really a whole lot there. A barrage of effects and a jumble glitz pile of a story. 3 stars
2/21/06 dredphul Interesting visuals, the story is messy and incomprehensible at times 4 stars
2/21/06 Leia Meh...didn't do a whole lot for me. Not awful, but...a little nuts with the FX. 3 stars
2/19/06 Galliwertz Had some good stuff, indeed, but not enough of it...and the ending sucked. 3 stars
11/23/05 Nadia the best movie to come out of russia 5 stars
10/26/05 Minista The Wickedist 5 stars
10/23/05 Vladimir First real Russian intervantion into Holywood soil 4 stars
10/19/05 CONSTANTINE AWESOME, It's 'Highlander', 'Constantine' & 'The Matrix' mixed in with VODKA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 stars
10/17/05 M visually perfect.....not much else. 2 stars
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  17-Feb-2006 (R)
  DVD: 20-Jun-2006



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