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  Gorky Park The Sun Sets In The East
Year: 1983
Director: Michael Apted
Stars: William Hurt, Lee Marvin, Brian Dennehy, Ian Bannen, Joanna Pacula, Michael Elphick, Richard Griffiths, Rikki Fulton, Alexander Knox, Alexei Sayle, Ian McDiarmid, Niall O'Brien, Henry Woolf, Tusse Silberg, Patrick Field, Jukka Hirvikangas
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: Arkady Renko (William Hurt) has often felt he is in the shadow of his late father, as they both have similar jobs as top investigators for the Moscow police, which doubles as a militia, and when one case arises which seems impossible to solve those superiors who knew his father can barely hide their pleasure that they think he is out of his depth. It's a baffling case all right, as near Gorky Park, where skaters had been playing, three dead bodies have been found frozen in the snow, their faces removed so as to prevent identification. So if nobody knows who they are, and there are no leads, what will Renko do?

Martin Cruz Smith's Arkady Renko series of Russian-set mystery thrillers would seem an obvious choice for adaptation, if not to the big screen then maybe the small, but as it was contemporary versions of them began and ended with Gorky Park, one of a collection of American-made movies which obsessed over life behind the Iron Curtain, and one of a number which had it in mind that all the Soviets really wanted to do was not stay in their own country and hope to make a better life there, but instead to defect to the West where they could get all the American freedom they wanted, see also Moscow on the Hudson, White Nights, and so on.

If you could accept that rather arrogant position on the part of the States, then what you really had was a detective story more than a spy story, even with the involvement of the KGB in the plot, and the curious sight of an American movie set in Russia, filmed in Finland with a mostly British cast and director (Michael Apted). William Hurt chose not to use a Russian accent but went for a strange, sort of English inflection often slipping to reveal his native tones, which did not make him blend in with the Brits and more had you wondering why he didn't simply not bother with the accent. Elsewhere, Joanna Pacula played Irina, the woman who may be the key to the conundrum, using her Polish accent though telling us she was from Siberia.

Seriously, if you're preoccupied with accents, Gorky Park was quite the movie to see, but then there was the plot to be getting on with, something which was all too easy to allow to get away from you as you worked out who was doing what to whom and why. It centred around the sable smuggling operation of Lee Marvin's American Jack Osborne, evidently taking a break from reality television, and his links to the three people found dead in the park. Pay attention and this will tie up after a fashion, though Dennis Potter's script featured many distractions, not least in how its words were spoken by some strange casting choices, a selection of people you couldn't credit with being the characters they were supposed to be, sinister or otherwise.

For a start, Scottish audiences thought it was hilarious that popular comedian Rikki Fulton was playing the KGB official who is meant to be a coldhearted monolith of a man, but whenever he was on the screen they were reminded too much of watching Hogmanay sketch show Scotch and Wry every year - all that snow we see on the ground surely didn't help, and neither did Hurt accusing him of being a "festering baboon!" in one emotionally charged scene. Another comedian, Alexei Sayle, appeared as a black marketeer but was still essentially Alexei Sayle, and Ian McDiarmid was in the interesting position of having been in a film written by Potter, and bearing such a physical resemblence to him that he pretty much played the writer in one of his final works for television. Other famous faces hoved into view, including Brian Dennehy as a New York detective visiting Moscow and with a link to Renko's case, but while they provided a certain novelty, there was too much of a grey, unexciting quality to Gorky Park which failed to lift what could have been a fair suspense piece. Music by James Horner.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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