Scythian, The (aka The Last Warrior)Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/17/18 14:35:16
(Worth A Look)
SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It's always a tricky business to mix ancient or medieval settings with modern sensibilities, even when one knows it is necessary (the elegant prose that survives from those ages almost certainly doesn't match how people actually spoke, but making things too simple and modern also often sounds wrong). "The Scythian" seems to handle that better than most, but not necessarily because it seems particularly realistic. Some mix of its roots in Russian legend and straight-ahead action plotting makes it click, even when it mixes modern glibness with brutal period action.It takes place roughly a thousand years ago, when Christian Russia was expanding into pagan lands. Lutobor (Aleksey Faddeev), a skilled warrior and trusted lieutenant to Lord Oleg (Yuriy Tsurillo), the prince of Tmutarakan, has just been informed that his lovely wife Tatiana (Izmaylova Vasilisa) has just been given birth to their first child, but the celebration not only brings Oleg and his son Vselav (Aleksandr Patsevich) - Lutobor's closest friend - but a group of mercenaries known as the Wolves of Perun, who kidnap Tatiana and leave a note commanding that he assassinate Oleg. After the plot is discovered, Lutobor escapes with Marten (Aleksandr Kuznetsov), the pagan assassin captured during the kidnapping, hoping to stay just far enough ahead of their hunters so that Marten lead Lutobor to his family and the means to clear his name.
Strip the trappings away and The Scythian is basically a buddy-cop movie set in medieval Russia, with Lutobor the falsely-accused straightlaced cop and Marten the wily criminal he's stuck working with (the character is actually named "Kunitsa" but subtitled as "Marten", apparently expecting more people to recognize that a marten is a type of weasel). And while both are far too cognizant of how the other is a not-to-be-trusted enemy to ever truly feel like a team, the interplay between them is entertaining, and they are both enjoyable examples of their types: Aleksey Faddeev is kind of sardonic and cool as Lutobor, but he brings a sense of honor to it that's not overbearing, while Aleksandr Kuznetsov is good at giving the impression of always looking for an opportunity without actually having his eyes darting about - it's a slick, energetic performance.
And that energy will often be necessary, because director/co-writer Rustam Mosafir puts the pair through a lot of mayhem, and if you like this sort of big, muscular action, it's good stuff: Heavy swords that make crunching impact against armor and spark when they hit stone, kicks where you feel the power even if they don't people flying like wire-fu when they connect, fist-fights where it sometimes seems sparing an opponent will be more difficult than killing them. Mosafir and his crew shoot this all in fine fashion, and when they kick it up a notch to fantastical proportions in the middle - when Lutobor powers up to the level where he can literally rip opponents apart with his bare hands - it is larger-than-life, but not out of bounds, even as it gets gloriously bloody.
The moment when things really go over the top is when they pass through the land of the Forest People, and it's just delightfully weird to look at. The whole thing feels grimy and primitive, but with an eerie, imaginative set of looks. There's an earnest consciousness of the gold being applied to Oleg at the start and a sense of wear to the costumes of the people being squeezed out, a sense of being ancient but weathered. It's a good balance between being imaginatively ornate while still feeling grounded.It's pretty good-looking for this sort of brutish action, a notch or two better than most other films in the genre which can't quite strike the right balance between celebrating the grim violence and making it palatable. "The Scythian" is ridiculous in its own way, but it still works.
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