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Movie Review: Day Watch – Chalk It Up to Choice

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There is a fight going on between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. The Others, as they call themselves, are immersed in this battle and it takes place in modern-day Moscow in and around everyday life. There are vampires and witches and all manner of shape-shifters and seers amongst the Others. The tenuous balance between light and dark is policed by a higher authority reminiscent of the Inquisition, making sure that they don't randomly gun each other down. The Great Truce is broken if one side deliberately kills one from the other side.

Our hero Anton (Konstantin Khabenskiy), a seer, is teamed up with the novice Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina) to patrol the streets and when we come into the action the two of them are chasing after a Dark One who has just stuck a needle in an old woman and is literally sucking the life out of her as if she was a juice box. They give chase and follow the Dark One into the Gloom, an alternate dimension where time and space are subtly different, but obviously parallel to our own reality. It turns out that Sveta is more powerful than Anton, and subsequently able to reach deeper into the Gloom and chase the Dark One further. She manages to tear off the mask the Dark One is wearing, revealing Anton's son Yegor (Dmitriy Martynov).

All this ties in with a piece of chalk, the Chalk of Fate, used by Tamerlane to change destiny. The McGuffin of the movie is which side will come into possession of the chalk, the Dark or the Light. But, because this is that kind of story, even the light is … well, let's just say there's a healthy dose of grey in the mix. Anton means well, but he has to get his hands dirty to get to where he needs to be. He drinks too much and smokes too much and occasionally makes decisions that are not necessarily in his own best interest.

There's a definite sense that both sides, Light and Dark, are necessary, that eradicating the Dark is not an option. The mayor moral difference between the two sides seems to be how they view power. The Light sees it as something to be handled carefully and responsibly and the Dark side sees power as mainly just that – power. Power for it's own sake, used selfishly to gain you whatever you wish for, is a dangerous thing. It is a case of every tool being a weapon if you hold it right.

Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitskiy) is the leader of the Darks and his wife Alisa (Zhanna Friske) is the leading dark witch. They have seduced over Anton's son Yegor to their side and the big showdown between the two sides is to take place during Yegor's fourteenth birthday party. On the side of light we have the leader Geser (Vladimir Menshov ), Anton, Sveta, Olga (Galina Tyunina) and sundry other shapeshifters and witches.

They are all aware of each other, know each other and sometimes even live next door to each other, like Anton and Kostya, the vampire (Aleksey Chadov). They sometimes even help each other, but that doesn’t mean they are friends, exactly.

The entire cast is back from Night Watch, which makes this all the more enjoyable. It means you recognize the main players and you have a report with them, the viewer can see where we are now, a few years down the road. Anton is still the main focal point, caught in the middle of a struggle and the victim of circumstance in a way that makes all the difference. It turns out that this movie also hinges on choice, but in a slightly different way. It is about undoing wrongs in the past, paying attention to the details of the things you wish for. That’s where the Chalk of Destiny comes into play.

The first movie was enough of a success that the director obviously got handed a big bag of money for the sequel. To my endless delight he didn’t make the mistake of losing sight of what the world he created is supposed to be. The car chases look better, the fantastical aspects of the action get more room to come out and play, but the visceral quality of the violence and the organic nature of the effects remain, as well as the main focus of the action still being about the characters.

I’ll give an example of how slick this can be. Anton’s co-worker at the light company, where the Night Watch have their headquarters, asks him if he’s had a rough night. Anton mumbles a yes and asks why he wants to know. His co-worker tells him “your eyes are red” and for a flicker of a second a red shimmer appears in Anton’s eyes. It’s a here-and-gone thing, an aside, but it’s little things like that that make me like this so much. It also reminds the viewer that Anton has drunk blood when hunting vampires and that there is more to him than meets the eye.

There is also a body switch involving Anton and Olga (Galina Tyunina) that gives rise to some really funny scenes and that is mostly just done by the actors giving good performances. You never doubt that you are looking at Anton in Olga’s body, and that’s not something that needs any special effects at all. It’s all in the body language.

Many sundry other little character quirks and oddities essentially enrich the story as a whole. The end is fittingly apocalyptic in a sense, once the balance has been disrupted between the Light and the Dark. The One Dark Other, Yegor, that turns out to be more powerful than all the others has not gotten a handle on his powers yet and in a stand-off with Sveta he lays waste to most of Moscow. It turns out that Anton is the only one who can set it right.

I like everything about this movie, its length, its look and feel and pacing and the different sensibility to it, its very Otherness. I like the fact that it takes place in Moscow and that there are layers of cultural heritage built in to the very backdrop along with shameless product placement and a little in-house joke on the expense of the movie 9th Company (2005). It’s smart and modern and timeless at the same time, and that’s a difficult trick to pull off.

Day Watch (2006), directed by Timur Bekmambetov, stars Konstantine Khabenskiy (Anton), Mariya Poroshina (Svetlana), Vladimir Menshov (Geser), Galina Tyunina (Olga), Viktor Verzhbitskiy (Zavulon), Zhanna Friske (Alisa), Dmitriy Martynov (Yegor), Valeriy Zolotukhin (Kostya's father), Aleksey Chadov (Kostya), Nurzhuman Ikhtymbayev (Zoar), Aleksandr Samolenko (Bear/Medved), Yuriy Kutsenko (Ignat), Irina Yakovleva (Galina Rogova) and Georgiy Dronov (Tolik).

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