Night Watch
I don’t think eyeglasses alone are going to fix his vision.

Theatrical Release Date: 07/08/2004 (Russia), 02/17/2006 (USA)
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Cast: Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Viktor Verzhbitsky, Galina Tyunina

What if the world humanity lives in was only part of the whole picture? What if there were “Others” that were vampires, witches and shape-shifters? What if these “Others” were locked in an eternal struggle of good versus evil?

Now you’re probably saying to yourself, ‘Haven’t I already seen about half a dozen movies that deal with this theme in the last year?’

Yes, you have. From “Underworld” to “The Matrix” to “Blade” to a host of others, taking the good guy / bad guy thing to a supernatural level is not a fresh concept for audiences worldwide.

And yet, after watching Russia’s attempt at creating a slick, paranormal blockbuster, I wasn’t offended or annoyed that this isn’t a new concept.

Let me break down the overall picture before getting down to specifics.

“Night Watch” was released in Russia in 2004 and has finally landed stateside. Its sequel, “Day Watch” just opened in Russia a month ago and the finale to the trilogy, supposedly named “Twilight Watch”, should be coming out shortly. (There’s even a rumor that the third film will be in English with American actors but I just have to hope that’s a complete load of horse manure).

The films are based on a series of books by Russian author, Sergei Lukyanenko. Not having read any of them, I don’t know how influenced Lukyanenko was by the wave of similar themes that have swept through America but I’ll just have to give him a pass on it.

It is clear though that director Timur Bekmambetov has seen a lot of Hollywood blockbusters and wanted to make his very own. However, there is one major obstacle to him completing that dream: Money.

“Night Watch” was made for something close to $4 million dollars, a staggering amount for Russian films but a paltry amount for Hollywood. As such, the effects Bekmambetov used are somewhat hokey and usually involve using any and all of the camera tricks he could think of.

That being said, I think this actually worked in the film’s favor, creating a look and feel to the film that wasn’t so cliché and familiar as all of the other fantasy good versus evil films that have been unleashed on the world lately.

Actually, I hope he never gets the money to do what he really wants because I like the gritty look and feel of the film and if Bekmambetov ever gets to put the shiny polish on the subsequent films, I think it will lose much of the attraction I feel towards this first film, “Night Watch”.

Getting to the film itself, the basic plot is that the forces of Light and the forces of Dark have called a truce to their struggle against one another. Part of their pact involves that no new “Other” can be coerced to join either side. They must choose of their own free will. To ensure that happens (and to keep the peace), both sides create a Watch group; hence Night Watch and the subsequent Day Watch.

The main character is Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky), a man who serves on the Night Watch, trying to keep the Dark Others from tipping the balance. Unlike Keanu Reeves in “Constantine”, Khabensky is able to provide a character with some depth and emotion whom the audience can rally behind and discover the intricacies of the plot while he himself is trying to figure it all out.

What makes “Night Watch” stand out in my mind is that neither side is really playing fair. Instead of absolute black and white morality, there are shades of gray to the film and that gives the story a chance to be as non-conventional as possible, given such an oft-used theme.

Obviously, I don’t want to give anything away. Suffice to say, where “The Matrix” failed to find a decent way to end without seeming like a TV series cliffhanger, “Night Watch” provides an adequate resolution while still leaving the audience wanting to know what will happen next.

There’s even a funny clip from an American TV show which I don’t want to spoil. Yet another homage to the director’s fascination with American sensibility. And one big plus is how they used the subtitles. This film probably had the best subtitles I’ve ever seen; fading them in and out, shading them, coloring them. They felt like a part of the movie and added another layer to the look of the film.

There is one downside that I must mention, though – the film is a wee bit confusing. While I could piece together what was going on, I really felt like I had fallen down the rabbit hole. That can be either a good or a bad thing and I’m still trying to figure out where I stand on that issue. I’m not sure if the confusion stems from problems in the script or in the filmmaking process and how intentional the whole affair is but you will be forced to use your brain to decide what the hell is happening every now and then.

Anyone who is a fan of this theme who wants to see a slightly different take, I highly recommend “Night Watch”. I’m going to give it a 4 out of 5. While I was hedging between a 3 and a 4, the fact that I spent the entire car ride home feeling like I was in a quasi-dream state and spent this much time analyzing it all is enough to give the extra push in my rating of this film.

I’m not saying “Night Watch” is groundbreaking or the end all and be all of this genre. Rather, it is an excellent counterpoint to the over-produced and under-developed stories that Hollywood tends to put out and fans of good cinema have something to chew on with this film. So grab a fork and a knife and dig into this film however you can, I’m sure it won’t be easy to find.