Quirky mobster movies are nothing new to the cinema scene but for those of you with an interest in foreign films you may want to check out Dead Man's Bluff (or it's Russian name Zmurkhi). Under the guidance of Director Aleksei Balabanov this film was released last year and just hit DVD thanks to Kino. The story is eccentric with quirky characters and a violent tale that takes place in a world that seems too strange to be real. It can be smart at times while stupid at others but in the end this is an entertaining picture worth checking out for the importer looking for something different.
In the midst of the chaos that ensues once the picture gets underway you're going to be subjected a cast of (mostly) unlikable murderers and drug dealers. The atmosphere is gritty to say the least but it never takes itself too seriously which is easily its saving grace. A movie like this needs to have a sense of humor because let's face it; the script isn't as good as Scarface or something of equal caliber. It's simple, straight forward and often predictable but the all Russian cast is likeable enough to find a way to make it work.
Dead Man's Bluff is one of those movies that tries to take multiple storylines and tie them together somehow before the credits roll. In this case there are several characters gunning for their respective goals but the focus of the film is on two particularly shady individuals who are lackeys for a crime lord named Mikhailovich (Nikita Mikhalkov). Simon (Dmitri Dyuzhev) and Sergei (Aleksei Panin) are two brothers who let their guns do the talking as they try to live from one day to the next.
Sergei is basically the brains of the operation and wherever he goes Simon seems to follow. He carries around a black case (the contents of which aren't revealed until later), pauses for spiritual betterment whenever he passes a church and often muses about getting out of the business of guns and such. Simon is a dimwit who has more muscle than smarts and characteristically slumps when he walks. His awkward movements are attributed to a pair of pistols spring-loaded to his forearms for a surprising and quick shot. Together the two run errands for Mikhailovich but something always seems to go wrong.
Other players in the picture involve a corrupt cop who is out to double-cross Mikhailovich and a trio of buffoons bent on making a quick score. All of their fates become entwined with the actions of Simon and Sergei as the tale brings them all closer together. The story doesn't get too in depth and the key element that draws everyone together is a stolen briefcase. As things start to get rough the misfit brothers really start to think that this particular life isn't for them and if they make it out alive maybe they can change things.
While I have seen several foreign films in my lifetime I do have to admit that I've only sat through a handful of Russian ones. I wasn't too familiar with the cast but thought they each did a decent job with the roles provided and they seemed to be picked for the right characters. More than a few of the backup actors left a lot to be desired and many sections of this picture felt amateurish because of that. Nikita Mikhalkov is easily the saving grace for Dead Man's Bluff though since his over the top character brings so much life to a sometimes listless and slow moving plot.
In the end this wasn't the freshest movie I have seen nor was it a benchmark by any other means. It proved to be simplistic, entertaining and vulgar all at the same time. The dark comedy and action work well together but all of the talky bits in between tend to make things drag. The irritating Russian techno soundtrack didn't do anything for me either but that's just a matter of personal preference. If you're a fan of foreign cinema looking for something a tad obscure and mildly entertaining you should probably give this one a spin.
Dead Man's Bluff is presented with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and comes with a very good transfer. The image is sharp with vibrant colors and an overall clean presentation. There are a couple of scenes where some grain is noticeable and even a little bit of edge enhancement but other than that things are smooth. The dark atmosphere of the movie really filters into the overall look of the picture with gloomy trappings and smattered blood.
The only audio selection available is for the original Russian language which is presented in 2.0 channel stereo. There are some English subtitles available if you want to use them but otherwise there has been no dubbing track put together. The sound is decent for the most part but the channel separation is about as diverse as you'd expect from a stereo track. Technically speaking I didn't encounter any distortion or hiss while I was watching though I did notice a slight sync issue at times.
The only feature on this disc is a collection of some still pictures with shots from the film and from the production. There is also a theatrical trailer, but that's about it.
Dead Man's Bluff is an unusual little movie that tells a darkly comedic, yet simplistic tale with a couple of twists tossed in for good measure. The main cast does a decent job with the material though the support crew doesn't fair so well. It's a good thing that this film doesn't take itself too seriously though because otherwise that fact would have killed the experience. If you're looking for a foreign movie with a lot of violence and shock value you'll appreciate this one. It would probably be served best as a rental though.
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