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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.46%
Worth A Look: 22.97%
Just Average: 27.03%
Pretty Crappy28.38%
Sucks: 12.16%

8 reviews, 26 user ratings

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Night Watch
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by Peter Sobczynski

"I Never Drink . . . Vodka!"
4 stars

There are very few elements to the fantasy epic “Nightwatch” that a sane, sound and rational film critic couldn’t mount a strong and vigorous objection to without batting an eye. It tells an elaborate tale of ultimate good battling ultimate evil for the fate of all humanity and it is still difficult to tell from scene to scene who is doing what to whom and why (despite containing not one, but two detailed explanatory prologues). It contains more characters, backstories and subplots than an Russian novel (perhaps not surprising since it is actually based on one) but instead of utilizing them, it prefers to jam the characters into an endless string of scenes in which they stand around reciting chunks of barely coherent exposition while things explode around them. Finally, just when you think you finally have a vague grasp on who is doing what to whom and why, it turns out that the film is actually just the first third of a trilogy and none of it is actually going to be resolved for another two installments.

And yet, despite the fact that the entire thing plays like “Highlander” without the lucid plot, I strangely found myself responding to every bit of insanity that “Nightwatch” has to offer. In a time when even the most elaborate fantasy epics are cursed with a certain timidity–they tend to devote their time and energy to slavishly imitating either the books they are based on or the other movies they are ripping off–here is a film that contains both a heedless imagination and a cheerful willingness to hurtle itself over the cliffs of common sense in order to surprise and entertain.

The first prologue explains that the fate of the world is in the hands of a constant battle between the forces of Light (good) and Dark (evil) and reveals that a medieval-era clash between the two ended in a truce when each side realized that they were too evenly matched and would only destroy each other. From that point on, the two have remained at a precise balance–new recruits with various paranormal powers (mostly vampiric in nature) are born every day and are allowed to freely choose which side they will assume–and keep tabs on each other to make sure that neither side tries to tip the scales. The second prologue kicks off in 1992 Moscow as a young man named Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), depressed because his girlfriend has left him for another man, visits a medium who offers to cast a spell to bring her back. Before she can complete it, the apartment is raided by Light soldiers to arrest her for casting spells without permission. When they find Anton, it turns out that he has heretofore unknown paranormal abilities and is recruited to join the Light, where he spends his nights preventing the Dark vampires from illegal recruiting while sipping the occasional snifter of pig blood to keep his sense sharp.

Another twelves years pass and the story proper finally begins to kick in. While on the prowl, Anton comes across a mysterious-looking woman (Mariya Poroshina) riding on the subway. It turns out that this s no ordinary woman–she is actually a horribly cursed woman who brings bad luck to anyone and anything that she comes into contact with (complete with an invisible vortex hover just above her head) and her very presence appears to be a harbinger for the final battle between Light and Dark. Armed with his powers, not to mention an owl that magically transforms itself into a gorgeous babe (Galina Tyunina), Anton attempts to discover who cursed her in an effort to lift and save the day before the final battle can commence. Adding to the complications are a newly-turned vampire waif who is enraged that Anton killed her beloved moments after he turned her and a prophecy about a “Great One,” an unknown young man who may have the power to shift the balance between Light and Dark once and for all.

As you have probably guessed by now, “Nightwatch” is utterly bats from start to finish and completely defies any attempt at summation–the end credits feature a speeded-up recap of the entire film and it makes almost as much sense as the movie proper. That said, even though the bewildering plot is enough to fry the brain, there is never a moment that doesn’t dazzle the eyes and stir the heart. There are astonishing battle scenes (especially the one that opens the film) as elaborately detailed as anyone could hope for as well as smaller, quirkier moments that inspire big and unexpected laughs. Most of the latter come from that incredibly unlucky woman–a jet flying over her apartment loses a screw that causes the strangest chain reaction seen in a film since a teardrop caused a boat crash in “The City of Lost Children” while a single phone call to someone working at a power station inspires a blackout that inadvertently sets the stage for the climactic battle.

All of these scenes have been staged with a lot of skill and energy by director Timur Bekmambetov, a man who is clearly not one to shy away from the grand cinematic gesture. If there is a scene that doesn’t contain a wild special effect or an elaborate camera move, I certainly don’t recall it and he not only sets a wild and breakneck pace but somehow manages to maintain it for two breathless hours. And even though the details of the story don’t make a lick of sense, he is able to convey it in such a purely visual manner that it actually winds up making some degree of sense in a weird sort of way, though I wouldn’t want to take a quiz on the particulars anytime soon.

If the midnight movie circuit that allowed such oddities as “El Topo,” “Eraserhead” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to flourish still existed, I have no doubt that “Nightwatch” would have become an instant fixture to that scene. Of course, that avenue no longer exists and this wild and wooly film will have to figure out a way to survive in a more normal environment in front of audiences with more conventional bedtimes. Such films are a rarity these days and when one like “Nightwatch” comes along, I find myself instinctively responding to it and I suspect that a lot of true-blue film fans–the kind who grow as weary of cookie-cutter entertainments as I do–will respond to it in the same way.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12039&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/23/06 23:59:40
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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

2/20/17 morris campbell solid horror fantasy film plots a bit messy though 4 stars
5/14/10 Alex Thorne calling this Russia's version of The Matrix is unjustified. Night Watch is Much Better! 5 stars
4/11/10 mr.mike It was mildly diverting. 3 stars
11/21/07 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
10/24/06 Marc I will never get those 2 hours back 2 stars
8/10/06 Dominick AWESOME MOVE.. don't listen to this Erik asshole 5 stars
6/12/06 Michael Good review, but the movies was overblown. 2 stars
3/27/06 Danny Johanson This movie was absolutely excellent and visually stunning. 5 stars
3/05/06 Mushuga See the Russian version!!!! Because...well...that one sucks, too. 1 stars
3/05/06 Butterbean Appears to be setting us up for a better sequel. Please stop shaking cameras for "action". 3 stars
3/02/06 Roger Warner I was entertained. 4 stars
3/02/06 Mungface From the ads and the advanced hype, I didn't expect something so bland. 3 stars
2/28/06 Darren Shea Visuallly inventive, but hampered by a confusing plot. 3 stars
2/27/06 Ole Man Bourbon A very boring combination of Matrix: Revolutions and Dr. Quinn, Medecine Woman. Awful. 1 stars
2/27/06 Joshua Keep in mind its for russian, not western audiences. Starts solid then gets very silly. 3 stars
2/24/06 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
2/20/06 Leia Meh...didn't do a whole lot for me. Not awful, but...a little nuts with the FX. 3 stars
2/18/06 Galliwertz Had some good stuff, indeed, but not enough of it...and the ending sucked. 3 stars
11/22/05 Nadia the best movie to come out of russia 5 stars
10/25/05 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
10/16/05 M visually perfect.....not much else. 2 stars
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  17-Feb-2006 (R)
  DVD: 20-Jun-2006



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