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Day Watch (Dnevnoi Dozor)

Wait -- where's David Hasselhoff?
There are two things you should know before investing time in this movie review: One is that I’m primarily a screenwriter, not a film reviewer. And two, Day Watch is the second of a three part trilogy and I didn’t see the prequel, Night Watch.

I went to see this movie for two reasons. Cool swag and a free meal. I have no shame and I admit it. Let’s face it, it’s not like Fanyboyplanet.com is actually paying me for this review. But here’s the thing, I have to admit that unexpectedly I actually enjoyed the movie. So if you’re still with me, let’s take a few minutes to try and figure out why.

Day Watch is a sequel to the aptly titled Russian film, Night Watch (shades of George Romero) set in modern day Russia. What I was able to discern about the first movie from this film’s prologue is that hundreds of years ago the forces of Light and Darkness faced each other in a devastating battle fought on a bridge.

Why a bridge? I have no idea, but it looked to be one fierce battle. The story goes on to tell us that in order to avoid total slaughter, their leaders agreed to an armistice. Ever since, the forces of Light have governed the day while those of the Dark (who can’t see this coming?) belong to the night.

Cut to modern day Moscow, where living amongst normal humans we find these "Others" who possess various supernatural powers, i.e. witches, sorcerers and vampires, and who miraculously appear to co-exist in harmony with one another. But, and here’s the hook, when one side steps out of line (and by one side I mean the Dark “Others”) the "Night Watch" from the forces of Light is dispatched to subdue them.

Okay, the premise might seem over used, good versus evil, but here it’s played out against a unique background. And while on occasion some of the motives are a bit unclear, amidst the conflict of the story is a gentle understated understanding between mortal enemies which is a refreshing change from American blockbusters like Spiderman or Grindhouse. There are no over-the-top, comic bookish villains or heroes in this film.

This brings us to Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky) of the Day Watch. The prologue goes on to say something about Anton hiring a witch to kill his wife who was carrying their unborn child but something went wrong: the apocalypse nearly happened and… that’s where they lost me. I mean, come on… it was subtitled for crying out loud and I can only read so fast in the dark.

Just like Alexander Nevsky, only with monsters...
So now you know as much as I did going into the film, unless you’ve actually seen the first one, in which case feel free to barrage me with gigabytes of hate mail if you feel I’ve somehow offended you or the movie.

Day Watch is based on the novel by Sergie Lukyanenko and Vladimir Casiliev, who also wrote its prequel Night Watch and sequel Dusk Watch (which I assume will be coming to a theater near you sometime in the year 2009). Night Watch was originally released in Russia in the summer of 2004 and became an instant hit, breaking all film records in post Soviet history, out-grossing Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King and Spider-Man 2 at the Russian Box-office.

Director Timur Bekmambetov, who also directed the first installment of the franchise, brings a very unmistakable Russian-ness to the movie. Picking up several years after Night Watch ended, we quickly learn that the truce between the Light and Dark is reaching a tragic ending. Each side has gained a powerful “Great Other” who are headed for a clash with one another. The problem is that it has been prophesized that if these two powerful, yet opposite beings should ever meet, it would bring about the end of the world. Which is a nice twist because typically you’d expect the plot to bring them together so that both sides can be united through love. No such luck here.

I'm watching something...
On the side of Darkness stands Anton’s son who has been raised by Geser (Vladimir Menshov), the leader of the Dark (I have no idea why, I’m sure it was covered in the first film) and on the side of Light is the sexy Sveltana (Maria Poroshina), Anton’s rookie partner on the Day Watch and love interest. And as if that didn’t put Anton in enough of a pickle, he’s also on the run after having been accused of murdering a Dark “Other.” Which leads us to one of the best moments in the movie, a very sexy heterosexual love scene between two very attractive women. To explain further would be to give away a great plot twist, so you’ll just have to take my word for it and see for yourself. The only thing that can save Anton from the chaos his life is mired in is the ancient “Chalk of Fate” (I kid you not), which was lost hundreds of years ago. Pretty good, huh?

Watching the movie you can sense that Timur has been influenced by filmmakers like James Cameron, Ridley Scott and The Wachowski Brothers, which works in his favor, but there’s also an undeniable originality to it that makes it uniquely his own. Alluring and upsetting at the same time, this is a Russia I’ve never seen or envisioned before.

My press notes tell me that the film is a dazzling mix of state-of-the-art visual effects, amazing action sequences and nail biting horror set in a contemporary Moscow. I agree with two thirds of that statement. The movie is definitely dazzling, if not a tad dark. The action sequences are first rate and the acting is superb. What it’s not is horrific, which is alright with me because I expected to encounter a blood bath going in and instead found a very enjoyable fast paced fantasy/action film from the moment it opened with better than expected special effects.

The biggest problem with the film is it suffers from wanting badly to be on par with The Matrix but never rises to that level of storytelling. It also feels vaguely familiar of the Underworld franchise minus any werewolves. Having said that, the ending is a real visual treat as all of Moscow faces annihilation.

This goes right on Jeffrey's bomber jacket...
Slightly convoluted at times, my only flaw with the story is that there’s no motive given as to why Geser wants to bring together the two “Great Others” and cause the end the world. Unless it somehow ties into what happened in the first movie, which as I covered up front, I haven’t seen.

And that brings me back to the reason I went to see this film in the first place. The Swag. As I made my way out of the theater, the good folks from Fox Searchlight’s publicity department kindly handed me a goody bag containing a t-shirt from the film, a Day Watch patch, a couple of stickers, a press kit and (this was the best goody in the bag) a DVD of the first film, which I’m now looking forward to watching.

Oh yeah, they also pointed me to a table where I was served a nice hot meal and all the alcohol I could drink.

So, all in all, not a bad night at the movies.

Jeffrey Berman lives in LA and is a mildly successful screenwriter that you've never heard of. But with a little luck by this time next year you just might.

We offer up as well that you never know when we can arrange for our writers to get cool swag.

Jeffrey Berman

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