MTI // R // $19.95 // November 7, 2006
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted November 12, 2006
Highly Recommended
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Conspiracy theories wrapped within historical fiction are always interesting to watch unfold on screen. Whether leaning towards truth or just plain nonsense, they still probe the mind and question the core material's ideas. The Second World War's dictatorial leaders are interesting, albeit touchy, subjects regarding their war-time and personal practices. Archangel, a Power/BBC miniseries based on the novel by Robert Harris that translates into a gripping two-hour show, maintains a persistent tone of grinding suspense and curiosity wrapped up as a fable involving the life of Joseph Stalin.

The Film:

Fluke Kelso (Daniel Craig) is a Western history teacher giving a lecture in the cool, icy landscape of Russia. He concentrates fervently on the life and times of Joseph Stalin, as is apparent from his lecture. While walking after the conclusion of his speech, which is abruptly broken apart by protestors, Fluke is halted by an old guard employed by a high ranking Russian official during Stalin's reign. He informs that Kelso doesn't know the true meat and bones of the secrets Stalin took with him to the grave. This veteran guard spins a yarn for Fluke that tells of a secret book that explicates some of these undisclosed tales. Once Fluke learns of the historical secrets that could lie within, a wild goose chase to find this book is lit. Shortly after he reveals this secret to Kelso, the veteran guard is found murdered. Along the way, Kelso successfully locates the deceased's alienated daughter Zinaida, whom also develops a desire to find the book. From there, a murder-mystery tale of surprising tension graces the screen.

Archangel's plot seems strikingly familiar. Films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and novels like The Da Vinci Code have introduced this formula: a well-educated historian pairs up with a relative of a recently deceased individual whom bears a secret. The two team up to unearth the secret which may or may not reflect what they are searching. It's an established method; however, the eccentricities of the specific plotlines make each story worth the investment of effort. Archangel is no different. The obscurity behind Stalin's buried secrets is mysterious enough to ensnare the viewer's attention. All the grand twist and turns that proceed manage to pique the nerves and ensnare preceding interest in the unfolding events. Even though Archangel is formulaic, it is still very effective.

All of this standard tension works because of the talent of Archangel's lead: Daniel Craig. His flair and talent really shine through as the Stalin-obsessed historian Fluke Kelso. Even though Craig doesn't fit the template of your typical historian, he proves to be extremely convincing and entertaining to watch early on, thus delivering the goods until the credits roll. The edge he adds carries the film from being an average, formula-driven thriller with an interesting premise to an effective piece all the way through.

Conspiracy theories, whether true or complete gibberish, bring interesting attention to historical events. Just about everybody likes a good yarn about potential corruption and cover-up surrounding important figures and events. Archangel tackles an interesting theory surround Joseph Stalin wrapped inside a very sharp, mature thriller.

The DVD:

MTI Home Video has packaged Archangel in a standard DVD keepcase with disc.

The Video:

Archangel is presented in a 1.33:1 fullscreen ratio. I was pleasantly surprised by the camera work in the presentation. Granted, to maintain the mood and flair of the film, the transfer is a little grainy and smooth. However, the cinematography and overall color tones in the film looked very appealing to the eyes. From the bars and alleyways of the streets of Moscow to the backwater, forestry locales of Archangel and surrounding areas, I was pleased with what was presented.

The Audio:

Here's where I was enjoyably surprised. The Dolby Digital audio mix for Archangel was rather good. Part of a film's success with tension is a matching score. The soundtrack for Archangel is gripping, tense, and extremely pleasing to the ears. It adds another flare to the film that boosts it above average levels. Dialogue was pretty clean and understandable, even from individuals with thick Russian accents. All in all, the audio presentation was quite agreeable. Spanish subtitles are available.

The Extras:

The only available extras included are actor bios, some previews for Archangel and other select series, and scene selection access.

Final Thoughts:

Archangel works as a intelligent, graceful suspense tale with a twist of conspiracy theory tossed in the mix. The additions of Daniel Craig, the film's score, and the rough, interesting locales amongst the Russian landscape, carry this slightly above average thriller to a film well worth seeing. The miniseries itself comes Highly Recommended.

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