Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Never Heard of It: The Rider Named Death

Here's the first entry in what I hope will be the long-running and fame-grabbing weekly series destined to finally make me cool with the popular kids. If you missed my intro post for Never Heard of It, here's a quick rundown. I'm reviewing movies that, before grabbing it randomly off the DVD racks, I'd never heard of before. Completely new-to-me movies.

This week, I'll be reviewing a film called The Rider Named Death. I don't know what year it was made or who directed, starred, or released it. I did notice that it was in the "Russian" section, so I'm assuming it's a foreign film. Other than that, no idea...here we go.

Live Feed Comment: (0:00:03) "Oh shit, it's a period piece. Horses and hoop shirts...damnit.
Live Feed Comment: (0:01:42) "She's hot. What's her name? Princess Beloselskaya-Belozerskaya? Thanks, subtitles."

After the assassination of a politician by the beautiful woman, the film cuts to an awesome black-and-white flashback looked to be shot with an old stationary camera. You know Lumiere-style. The voice over sets the film up. Pre-Soviet Union Russia: mean to its people. The country has a history of revolutionaries killing its leaders trying to inject change. The government responds by cutting off the heads of assassins and displaying them in the courtyard for identification!

As the film progressed, I realized that The Rider Named Death wasn't going to be the Pride & Prejudice ripoff that the opening shot made me fear it would be. The film revolves around a group of revolutionaries who plot to change their world, or at least their country, one bomb at a time. The group recieves their orders from higher-ups who, as a committee, decide who the next target will be.

Live Feed Comment: (0:06:26) "Masquerade parties are scarier when the masks speak Russian."

One scene, reminiscent of Hitchcock's Blackmail, follows a woman as she constructs and delivers two explosives intended for the assassination of a Duke. With sweat drenching her brow, she carefully places the dynamite packages into a cookie tin. The detonators are inserted next, all movement made with the utmost precaution. The actress' performance in this scene is one of the best of the film. She moves slowly through out her room, as the camera slides around her. The woman delivers her package, holding an explosive picnic basket just ever so slightly away from herself as if to protect her from it's contents.

The cinematography and set design deserves their own special attention. The coloring of the walls is so eye-catching that sometimes they were more interesting that the actors standing in front of them. Rich greens and blues paint the apartment room walls. When shooting exteriors, the director keeps his frames full. Dirty tan buildings are crammed next to off-white ones. Even with all of the well-dressed ladies and gentlemen walking the streets, there always seems to be the possibility of chaos, maybe a bombing or a street chase. A sense of unrest decorates the film's locations.

About fifty minutes in, the ground attempts to blow up a Duke as he rides through the town. The revolutionaries are put to the test when the happy, smiling faces of the Duke's wife and children are shown through the carriage windows. Are they killers of women and children? As the transport passes them by, one of the film's most captivating characters, Fryodor, decides to act. The glass shatters as the bomb breaks through the window. Immediately, the police swarm on Froydor who takes off running. The chase makes your heart pound, loud. Ducking between groups of children, the wannabe assassin avoids police bullets before taking his own life behind a woodpile. It's only then that it's revealed that the bomb failed to detonate.

Live Feed Comment: (1:02:57) "Nudity! Wasn't expecting that. Also, there's a lot less fur hats and vodka than I thought there would be."
Live Feed Comment: (1:03:02) "I'm a racist."

As loyalties are questioned and numbers begin to dwindle, the stakes are raised higher and higher. George, the group's leader, is forced to take drastic measures. I've already given way too much away, so I won't spoil the ending. I will end on some final wrap-up thoughts about The Rider Named Death. If all of the Never Heard of It selections are as good as this, I'll be happier than the ending of a Garry Marshall Movie.

This is no Russian Ark. Not knowing too much about Russia's history, it's Civil War, and transformation into the Soviet Union, I was still able to keep up with the plot very easily. The film takes the viewer deep inside a secretive group of people and attempts to show why they resorted to the actions they did. Why did they believe that violence was the way to inspire change? If the plot wasn't so deeply rooted in Russia and it's tumultuous past, this could easy be remade into an American political thriller. The director works within a familiar narrative form but gives it enough of a reworking that the viewer never quite seems to know what's coming next. Very impressive film.

Glad I Watched It rating:


Jason Soto said...

Cool new feature. It's a pretty neat idea. Can't wait to see what you get next week.

Bob Turnbull said...

Excellent! I love the "Live Feed" component.

I just started doing something similar on my site as well, but I call it Goin' In Blind. I've only done 4 so far and they will likely be randomly occurring (if you can stick with a weekly feature, I doff my cap to you sir). I'm giving myself a bit more leeway in that I'm allowed to read the DVD box to see if it interests me - but I must never have heard of it at the time it catches my eye on the shelf.

Man, I'm sorely lacking in Russian film knowledge...

elgringo said...

Jason - Thanks a lot.
Bob - We should both commit to a weekly series, cross-promotion, group support, the whole kit-and-caboodle (if that's spelled right, I'm buying myself a reward of the pecan pie sorts). Let me know what you think!