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Overall Rating

Awesome: 21.43%
Worth A Look50%
Average: 14.29%
Pretty Bad: 7.14%
Total Crap: 7.14%

1 review, 8 user ratings

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Gorky Park
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by Jack Sommersby

"Sliced-Off Faces and Sable Hats"
4 stars

Don't look for something akin to "The French Connection" or your everyday conventional thriller, and you might have an unexpected nice time.

Contrary to the accolades of Martin Cruz Smith's novel, Gorky Park isn't a "super-thriller," and neither is the film adaptation, written for the screen by Dennis Potter and directed by Michael Apted. Rather, it's a Russian detective tale that's more densely plotted than excitedly paced, more character-oriented than contrivance-laden. Its hero, Arkasha "Arkady" Renko, is Moscow's number-one investigator and the only one with a one-hundred-percent case-clearance rate; his sleuthing skills are decidedly tested when three dead bodies are found beneath the snow off a walking path in a local park, with both their fingertips and faces expertly sliced off to prevent identification. Arkady, sensing KGB involvement -- which he fears in light of a skirmish in the past he had with its commanding officer: suspecting him of murder, when Arkady compiled the evidence to support it, he was captured and beaten; the case was soon done away with -- at first is more interested in dumping the case than solving it. He hopes the corpses are those of foreigners, for if they are the case will fall into KGB jurisdiction, and this is somewhat atypical in a movie hero; and William Hurt, who plays Arkady, gives him a cynical, detached demeanor with semblances of appeal and wit that put us on his side from the get-go. Arkady's encouraged to keep on the case by the Chief Prosecutor (the characters are amusingly referred to by the titles of their professions -- "How were they killed, Comrade Chief Pathologist?"), and his chief suspect, revealed way too soon as the culprit, is a millionaire American fur trader, Jack Osborne (a just-average Lee Marvin). Aiding him in his investigation after some initial squabbling (well, a chase-and-fight and a gun to the head, to be exact), is another American, of Russian descent, William Kirwill (a forceful Brian Dennehy), a cop from New York and whose alienated brother he suspects as being one of the victims. Also thrown into the mix is a beautiful young Siberian woman, Irina Asanova (a wonderful debut by Joanna Pacula), who knew all three of the victims and who Arkady sees as being in danger from the killer, along with some high-level governmental corruption, sable hats, and expertise at rebuilding faces with the help of grub worms and sculpting clay. Just your everyday police tale, yes?

Smith's novel was entertaining like gangbusters even if it didn't exactly read like gangbusters -- the prose was languid but not dynamic; and the deliberate storytelling rhythm guided us through a labyrinth plot that was at the service of one of the most full-bodied characterizations ever to grace the mystery genre (with the only comparable one Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder detectve series acme Eight Million Ways to Die). To be completely faithful to the novel would require something by the likes of a five-hour running time; as it is, two-hours-and-eight-minutes is the final shaping of the film, so naturally certain subplots like Arkady's troubled marriage and other details have been jettisoned, but the overall result is still quite short of being a thriller. It's more or less a police drama, and even when James Horner's alacritous score tries to generate excitement director Apted isn't able to follow through with much. The film is always interesting in regards to the police-procedural details and the goings-on of everyday Russian life, and when it concentrates specifically on the Arkady/Irina relationship, it's at times a great deal more. Pacula is intense and moving, and she brings quite a bit of resonance to her scene where, even after Arkady saves her life from two knife-wielding henchmen, she holds a gun to him in his apartment in a state of distrust, still. There's also some pleasure in seeing Arkady come alive as a dedicated righter of wrongs -- after his hesitation at first, when he begins a bit of cat-and-mouse with Osborne, the clash of styles between the two matches up well. Having granted the film these pros, it doesn't move itself along as assuredly as we'd like and lacks the kind of standout moments that graced the novel (like Arkady resisting with all his mental might the effects of the truth-telling serum sodium amytal, injected into him by his captors). It probably would have played better if the filmmakers had junked the thriller aspirations and concentrated solely on the dramatic and psychological aspects (which wouldn't have been a bad idea since Apted demonstrates little talent for sustaining suspense and staging action), along with giving some of the secondary characters more attention and texture. As it plays out, the mystery has little in the way of immediacy to it, which is directly at odds with Arkady's driven desire to solve it. Gorky Park, as you've probably surmised, isn't the easiest film to recommend, but strengths it does possess and they're ones that don't eliminate its weaknesses yet make up for them just enough to justify a look-see for the curious-minded.

Boasts a romance that, I will dare say, packs twice the power than the one in the overpraised "Dr. Zhivago."

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originally posted: 06/05/06 07:30:32
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User Comments

3/25/18 morris campbell boring best i remember 1 stars
3/29/08 Pamela White russion suspensechilling and brutal 5 stars
2/10/08 Pamela White The Russians have much drama 5 stars
4/07/03 Jack Sommersby Works better as a character study than a whodunit/thriller. Acting is top-notch. 4 stars
11/23/02 Charles Tatum Cold and boring 2 stars
6/30/01 R.W. Welch Reasonably good mystery flick but nothing exceptional except the locale. 3 stars
4/20/99 jimmy jam Good flick you should see it 5 stars
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  02-Jul-1983 (R)


  02-Feb-1984 (M)

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