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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Leviathan (Blu-ray)
Leviathan (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures // R // May 19, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Oktay Ege Kozak | posted May 6, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

So down on his luck that he's given himself up to a slow death through alcoholism, a man asks a priest if God has a plan for his suffering. Predictably, the priest tells him the story of Job, the biblical figure who questioned God's sense of justice and was given a whole heap of trouble for his inquisitiveness. "Only when he resigned himself to God's will," the priest tells the downtrodden man, "did he live a happy life." Barely lifting his head from the bottle of vodka he's been chugging, the man asks the priest, "Is this a fairytale?" The priest, somewhat offended, answers, "It's from the bible."

It's hard to blame Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov), the man in the story, for thinking that happiness that results in giving oneself to the mercy of God's will is nothing short of a fairytale. After all, in the contemporary Russia he calls home, religious leaders not only directly condone the widespread corruption and abuse of power from politicians -- supposed public servants who consider their citizens to be lower than the lowest of insects -- they gladly partake in it under the guise of noble piety. If God himself is on the side of those who think of people like Kolya as expendable parasites, worthy of nothing but being squashed, how much would he benefit from resigning himself to God's will?

Andrey Zvyagintsev's haunting and spellbinding Leviathan starts off as an introspective, slow burning political thriller centered on Kolya's life as it's mercilessly destroyed by Vadim (Roman Madyanov), the corrupt mayor of this small, coastal Russian town. It gradually turns into a Bergmanesque existential study on whether or not there really is any theological justification to senseless human suffering. Yes, it's a loose take on the Book of Job in much the same vein as the Coen Brothers' sly masterpiece A Serious Man. However, by taking a decidedly less cynical approach and stripping out any possible elements of dark humor, Zvyagintsev distances himself from the Coens' take and creates a somber tale built on hopelessness and palpable anger towards the establishment.

The beginning of Kolya's decline is instigated not by God's random wrath but directly by Vadim, who, perhaps not so incidentally, is portrayed as the film's most religiously devout character. Vadim wants Kolya's house, perched on top of a hill with a gorgeous view of the ocean, for himself. Since he sees people beneath his status to be nothing but insects -- something he proudly announces any chance he gets -- Kolya's just another nuisance to rid himself of through the corrupt cops and government officials he has in his back pocket.

For a while, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for Kolya. His old army friend Dmitriy (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) is a Moscow-based attorney who has a lot of dirt on the mayor. He threatens Vadim that he'll go public about his horrible past deeds if he doesn't pay the full asking price for Kolya's house rather than less than one-tenth of its value. For a while, it looks as if Kolya has Vadim by the family jewels, but in a country in which its citizens turn a blind eye to even the most egregious atrocities perpetrated by the government, is that threat really much of a deterrent? As if to pour salt on the wound, Kolya's life goes further downhill when he finds out that his wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova) is having an affair with Dmitriy.

Leviathan is a deliberately slow-paced film, which might frustrate some audiences, but unlike an unfortunately high percentage of art house films, there's a purpose to its languid visual approach. Zvyagintsev wraps his film around long establishing shots -- the first six minutes are basically a series of them -- of the borderline post-apocalyptic town full of empty roads, abandoned boats, and even a giant whale skeleton. Eventually, the quiet desolation of the location completely envelops us. The film's cold and distant visual approach, sticking mostly to wide, panoramic shots full of empty spaces, perfectly captures the same resigned coldness of the characters.

The Blu-ray Disc:

Video:

The cold color scheme of DP Mikhail Krichman's gorgeous cinematography is perfectly and crisply captured on this excellent 1080p transfer. Krichman's ability to find sublime beauty in such drab and lifeless locations is a sizable accomplishment. Leviathan is a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen, but the Blu-ray presentation comes awfully close to replicating the experience.

Audio:

Leviathan comes to Blu-ray with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The film's subtle sound design takes full advantage of the silent moments in between palpable conflict. Philip Glass' bombastic score, which sounds like it was inspired by Erik Nordgren's music in The Seventh Seal, envelops every channel with its emotional heft. The track offers an exceptional amount of detail and depth, capturing a nice balance between the faint background sound effects that establish its mood with the dialogue and score.

Extras:

  • Commentary by Director Andrey Zvyagintsev and Producer Alexander Rodnyansky: This very informative commentary by the director and the producer is conducted in Russian. Optional English subtitles have been provided.
  • The Making of Leviathan: This is a half-hour fly-on-the-wall documentary in which we get a lot of raw footage from the film's production process.
  • An Evening at The Toronto International Film Festival: Director Andrey Zvyagintsev answers questions at the festival after a screening of his film. Some interesting information can be found here, but I'd recommend checking out the commentary and the making of documentary first.
  • Deleted Scenes: We get a whopping 22 minutes of deleted material. There's some intriguing stuff here, but the final cut of Leviathan perfectly captures the balance between plot and mood, so it's hard to imagine any of these scenes being inserted back into the film.
  • We also get a Trailer.

Final Thoughts:

Those looking for a fast-paced political thriller in Leviathan will surely end up disappointed. This is a heavily meditative yet decidedly angry f-you to corrupt and gleefully abusive political and religious leaders: those who are supposed to be the purveyors of truth and justice for the meek. The Blu-ray presentation from Sony is pretty spectacular, especially for such a relatively small foreign film.

Oktay Ege Kozak is a film critic and screenwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He also writes for The Playlist, The Oregon Herald, and Beyazperde.com

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