Undead Cinema: Review of Night Watch (2004)

Anexandros here, I tend to flip around in my reviews of films and this week, I will be discussing the 2004 film Night Watch by Timur Bekmambetov. Nightwatch is a very cool and dark film that is one of the better examples of destiny evasion. Let me warn you that this is not a discussion of the 1997 film with Ewan McGregor in it.

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The short version of the plot setup is that a man discovers he is part of a long-feuding war between those of the dark powers and those of the light powered. The term Night Watch refers to those of the day side making sure the night side does not violate the tenuous peace and balance currently existing.

Anton Gorodetsky, played amazingly by Konstantin Khabensky, is a tragic character who wants to be good, makes horrible choices and takes terrible injury all in the name of a greater good. Russian novels often seem existentially black and the film is honest in the treatment of the subject matter of the novel to make such mastery of the tragedy apparent and well-shaped. Anton gets dragged into the Night Watch when he is unknowingly used as bait in the capture of a magical assassin.4-nightwatch 4

Bekmambetov’s visuals are amazing. The shape changing, the flies representing the gloom, and the tornadoes and badly eroding world around the vortex, all of this prettily and horribly evokes powerful emotions in the narrative. The set design even covers a thin grime and filth placed over the lower society and the shine of those who are using their powers to remain in power. I find it interesting that the leader of the day seems to be a high level executive while the leader of the night is relegated to playing video games in a basement like a head banger past the glory days.

The battles are non-traditional uses of the magical powers around them. The vampiric power of invisibility is combined with the battle against the Medusa. We see airplanes losing parts as they pass and their rube Goldberg like effects. The vortex causes mass entropy, the mass entropy affects the vortex and the cause of the vortex feeds the power again. We see how far consequence can extend, and all of these unattached effects add up to some truly depressing conclusions. At one point, Anton’s failure to catch the vortex while it is small leads to an entire brownout by a third party. We see the dark side training for the upcoming battle. And while either side might be dark or light, that designation is shown to not necessarily be good or evil.

One of the key points of the story is the necessary requirement to need things from the enemy. The forces of both sides are seen crossing their battle lines to live in the day to day. Anton borrows blood from members of the dark side so he can get his job done and the night-sided citizens complicity sell him the blood so they can pay their bills and survive. The leaders of both factions talk like old friends rather than enemies. This represents a real occurrence in war that is often times omitted in traditional war stories of white/black battles.

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The scene at the beginning has far reaching repercussions upon the end of the film. The harder our villains try to escape their consequences, the further they fail. And the harder the light tries to do the right thing, the further they fail. Only Russian cinema by a master like Bekmambetov could grasp the intricacies of existentialism, make it seem so horribly depressing and still make an American cinema unable to peel eyes from the screen.

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This masterwork is simply amazing. I have never been a big fan of failure as a resolution in a film, especially in a first film. While I am fine with failure as a short term resolution , such as in Empire Strikes Back, seeing it in a first film of any series dependant on further interest to see the long term payoff seems a bit assumptive and wasteful. Night Watch carries the dropped egg and makes it a worthy omelet. Because we see the fullness of the narrative circle, we understand that the story could not have been any other way, no other ending would have fit the circumstances and we see that any happier ending would lead to feeling saccharine sweet and fake rather than the bitter and well-roasted coffee Bekmambetov percolated so carefully.

Undead Cinema: Review of Night Watch (2004) Reviewed by on .

Review Overview

5 out of 5
The film shows a wonderful, full narrative cycle, one I will watch again and again.

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