New Films 






Egor Konchalovskii: Antikiller 2 (2003)

reviewed by Elena Prokhorova©2004

Anti-killer 2: Anti-Terror is Egor Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii’s third feature film in three years and a sequel to his 2002 blockbuster Anti-killer. Like his first two films, Anti-killer 2 shows the young director’s preference for Hollywood-oriented genre cinema. A well-made action thriller, Konchalovskii’s newest film again follows the adventures of the protagonist Fox (Gosha Kutsenko), a former police officer who takes on fighting crime on his own. Anti-killer 2 brings back many characters from the first film: criminal kingpins Cross (Sergei Shakurov) and Broom (Iurii Sherstnev), police informer Bedbug (Ivan Bortnik), and the commander of the Special Forces unit Litvinov (Sergei Veksler). The rules of engagement, however, have changed: there are no more Godfather scenes. The warring family of Russia’s domestic criminals is destroyed, both by its own internal conflicts and by the intrusion of a more dangerous "other"—terrorists.

In the introductory pre-credit sequence, Russian Special Forces capture general Oduev, a leader of Islamic militant guerillas. In order to set him free, his son Uzhakh (Aleksei Serebriakov) travels to a southern Russian town where his father is jailed, summons a small army of terrorists, and wreaks havoc with the criminal world’s traditional hierarchies and laws. Fox, who has just married, joins the police in their investigation. His close alignment with the authorities is the biggest change from the "lone wolf" image of the first film. Moreover, the addition of a romantic plot provides personal motivation for Fox’s engagement in the fight. Uzhakh’s gang attacks the prison vehicle transporting general Oduev and kills the guards, one of whom manages to wound the general. Uzhakh stops an ambulance carrying two nurses, one of whom happens to be Fox’s wife. For the rest of the film Fox tries to rescue his wife and to prevent a terrorist act. In the end, the terrorists are destroyed, Fox is in his wife’s care, and Anti-killer 3 seems inevitable.

Violent scenes follow one another in rapid succession. The camera work, especially in the action sequences, follows the style of the first film: impressionistic and somewhat aestheticizing gruesome images. The film is less fragmented and clip-like than the first Anti-killer, but the narrative continuity still allows space for unexpected cuts and angles. This visual freedom allows Konchalovskii to create more interesting cinematic quotes than the Godfather references in the first film. For instance, the four-minute sequence of the fight between a Special Forces unit and skinheads clearly evokes the battle in Sergei Eisenstein’s Aleksandr Nevskii (1938): high-angle, extreme long shots of clashing masses of bodies alternate with medium shots of individual fighters. The extreme visual aggression of such sequences, intensified by dynamic editing, is organically linked to the soundtrack. The music track features such groups as Stereophonics, Obersounds, and the jagged sound of Clawfinger (a Norwegian/Swedish band that plays a mix of rap and metal). The dystopian flavor of the film, set in 2006, is largely due to the choice of locations, such as Soviet-era industrial structures like the Likhachev auto works (ZIL) in Moscow.

The introduction of terrorists as a single ruthless enemy focuses the narrative and tightens characterization. Uzhakh’s major function, in the tradition of Hollywood action films, is to serve as a worthy individual antagonist for Fox and to lay the ground for their single combat at the end. In its politics of representation, Anti-killer 2 continues the dialogue with Aleksei Balabanov’s Brother films (1997 and 2000) and the War (2002). Explaining the failure of the town’s police to stop violence or to get ahead in the game, Fox remarks: "They’ re at war; we’re at work." This comment echoes Aslan’s monologue in War, when he explains to Ivan that Russians fight badly in Chechnya because they are fighting not for their Motherland, but for money or out of fear. But unlike Ivan in War or Fox in the first Anti-killer, this Fox is not the lonely fighter anymore. His cooperation with the police to fight terrorists can be read as the merging of national and state ideals. The protagonist’s ironic-nostalgic one-liners, too, may not be completely innocent. When he gets an Audi as a wedding gift (which by sheer chance turns out to be payment for his previous services to the police), Fox responds: "At the service of the Soviet Union!" In a world where terrorists go unpunished, thieves own the city, and the police are always last on the scene, the evocation of the strong state reads as a political statement.

Konchalovskii, indeed, claims topicality for the film. According to him, criminal activity as Russians knew it from the 1990s, especially the violent re-division of spheres of interest, is over. Russia’s major problems now are extremism, national and racial hostility. Critical of Balabanov’s open xenophobia, Konchalovskii applies considerable effort to make his terrorists "international" and to avoid their identification with Chechens. Uzhakh and his fighters are financed by foreign money (Pakistan is mentioned at some point), tracked by Interpol, and the group is ethnically diverse. The scene in which members of the gang appear out of thin air and move, zombie-like, towards Uzhakh recalls George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. The film’s construction of the conflicting sides recalls the Stalinist differentiation of enemies: "socially-close" Russian criminals (many of whom help Fox in his mission) versus terrorists as universal "enemies of the people."

The fruitfulness of these attempts at political correctness, however, is dubious. There is little doubt that, at least for the domestic viewer, terrorism is firmly associated with Chechnya. And no matter what political agendas the film evokes, it remains primarily a commercial product. In this respect, Anti-killer 2 can claim a number of "firsts" in Russian cinema, among which is the film’s success with product placements. In the scene of Fox’s wedding he receives a number of gifts with clearly identified brand names: an Audi, a Komandirskie watch, a Panasonic laptop and camera phone, a "smart" gun which only obeys its "master," and a few stocks from the internet-trading company "Alpha - Direct". Throughout the film, each of these functions as magic objects, protecting Fox from danger. Similar to the recent gangster hit Bimmer (Petr Buslov, 2003), Konchalovskii’s film both pays tribute to consumer fetishism and satisfies sponsors.

While the film’s "body count" might have native competitors (especially among recent TV crime dramas), Anti-killer 2 leads in the number of smashed cars, both Russian and, more importantly, foreign (over 20 total). To facilitate the film’s marketing in the US, producers also planned to cast American actors, such as Dennis Hopper, Billy Zane, and Michael Madsen. Negotiations, however, broke down because the American side allegedly demanded 75% of the dialogue to be in English.

Anti-killer 2: Anti-Terror was contracted for distribution in theaters before shooting even started—a practice common in America and Europe, but non-existent in Russia—and released to theaters in 165 prints (compared to 43 prints for the first Anti-killer). In the first weekend after its release, the film grossed over $1,280,000.00—an absolute record for the Russian national film industry. Both Anti-killer films are unprecedented box office successes in Russia and good news for the emerging multiplex theater chains.

Elena Prokhorova, College of William and Mary

Anti-killer 2: Anti-Terror (Russia, 2003)

Color, 114 min,

Director: Egor Mikhalkov-Konchalovskii

Script: Iurii Perov (based on Danil Koretskii’s novel)

Cinematography: Anton Antonov

Music: Viktor Sologub

With: Gosha Kutsenko, Liubov' Tolkalina, Aleksei Serebriakov, Sergei Shakurov

Production: MP Productions, Golden Key Entertainment, with First Channel and Central Partnership

Egor Konchalovskii: Antikiller 2 (2003)

reviewed by Elena Prokhorova©2004