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Remember that time in the 1980s when we became increasingly curious about what Russia and Russians were doing, and it played out in movies like Red Heat? To some degree, Gorky Park for me at least started such a fascination. I remember watching this film a few times and liking it and for whatever reason have drifted away from it. At least its Blu-ray release gives one a chance to be a little retrospective, no?
Based on the novel by Martin Cruz Smith, Dennis Potter (The Singing Detective) adapted the screenplay that Michael Apted (Chasing Mavericks) directed. Three people are killed in a Moscow park and a detective named Renko (William Hurt, The Host) attempts to find out those responsible for their gruesome demise. As the investigation progresses, he believes among those involved is a powerful American businessman (Lee Marvin, Seven Men From Now) who will stop at nothing to thwart the investigation.
The main thing about Gorky Part that I still see now when seeing this is how the Russians handle their oppressors, almost in the sense that they know that the institution is crumbling before anyone else does. They had a lot of the same comforts that westerners had, they just had a different mechanism that supervised them, for lack of a better word. Apted's decision to shoot the film in Finland and Sweden was an additional smart choice that helped convey the environment.
Once you get past that initial part, the story behind Gorky Park is pretty conventional and a bit longwinded, as far as similar films go. The involvement of Irina (Joanna Pacula, Tombstone) is interesting but proves to be more and more needless as the film goes on. And as William, Brian Dennehy (Tommy Boy) announces his presence to moviegoers nicely but he is also just as secondary to the film as we go on.
As far as the leads go, Marvin plays a nice change of pace from what I was used to, someone a bit more calculating and intellectual. And for Hurt, the guy carrying this feature, his Russian accent is a decent one that meanders into Welsh or something at times (and to be fair, the same could be said of many of the British cast on screen). And at times he seems almost frail when on screen. Which is to say he finds himself getting pushed around a lot and he almost finds his investigation flailing a little at times. Sometimes it is buried in bureaucracy, but other times not a lot happens. And a film that runs two hours pre-credits is done little favor by the inconsistent pacing.
Among the things that have been lost over time is films like Gorky Park which put themselves in such a narrow setting. But in the process of being a Cold War environment they forgot to tell a compelling story or at the very least, use a protagonist that would have been charismatic enough to keep up with through every beat of the film. It works when you're a kid, not so much when you're a grown ass man.
Kino Lorber uses the AVC encode to present Gorky Park in 1.85:1 widescreen, and the results are fine. Film grain is present through most of the film, and image detail in faces or in Renko's door at his flat. Exteriors are the perfect mix of snow white and drab gray. It is not the cleanest source material in the world but it looks better than I thought it would after thirty years. Kudos Kino.
The Dolby DTS-HD MA two-channel audio suits the film fine, with James Horner's score sounding clear without much in terms of low end robustness. The film's original mono track is not included, but the lossless handles the dialogue and presumed many moments of ADR nicely without hissing or distortion. One could sense some near-immersive moments when the music outside the ice pond is cranked loudly or the recreated gunshot noises. A nice presentation for what is here.
There is a vintage trailer (2:21), but Apted sits down for a new interview (16:03) which has some recall on the production. He talks about how he came to the production and his thoughts on the cast, even mentioning that Marvin was suffering from emphysema during filming. It covers some of the basics without being a hollow and informationless commentary just fine.
There are some nice things to about Gorky Park, but as time rolls on there is little going for it. The sensation of seeing a pseudo pre-Cold War Russian backdrop has faded over the years, and all that is left is an unfulfilling film, and more tragically a frustrating one at that. Technically it looks decent and while the bonus material is humdrum, the Apted interview is a good one. Worth checking out if you never have, but unless you love it I would skip it.