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The Major: Cannes Review

The Major Cannes Critics Week Still - H 2013

The Bottom Line

Intense if somewhat overcooked tale of corrupt cops makes Serpico look like Bambi.

Venue

Cannes Film Festival (Critics’ Week)

Director-screenwriter

Yuri Bykov

Cast

Denis Shvedov, Irina Nizina, Ilya Isaev, Yuri Bykov

Russian filmmaker Yuri Bykov’s second feature, starring Denis Shvedov and Irina Nizina, premieres in the Cannes Critics' Week sidebar.

CANNES -- Like an episode of The Shield transplanted to the snow-swept Russian countryside, writer-director Yuri Bykov’s The Major is a tense, handheld police thriller filled with scores of dirty cops, scenes of abrupt violence and a relentless, overriding sense of nastiness. It’s also rather heavy-handed in certain parts, and not necessarily original in the story department, but its rapid pacing and potent performances should make it a viable pickup for distributors specializing in exotic genre fare.

Premiering in competition in the Critics’ Week sidebar, Bykov’s second feature, following 2010’s Live!, is also a one-man-band affair, with the filmmaker credited as writer, editor and composer, as well as playing a character who gets a major ass-whipping from various members of the local police force. So while there’s no doubt that the 32-year-old Bykov is entirely committed to his art, he also overreaches in places -- especially with the film’s excessive score -- but otherwise shows a knack for building intense set-pieces, including a nail-biting precinct shootout that makes strong use of off-screen space and vivid sound design (courtesy of Alexander Noskov).

Set within a single 24-hour period, the action kicks off quickly enough with commander Sergey Sobolev (Denis Shvedov) racing his SUV across icy country roads to join his wife, who’s giving birth at a clinic in nearby Ryazan, a small city southeast of Moscow. Along the way, his car skids into a 7-year-old boy, killing him instantly. But rather than calling an ambulance or doing anything remotely reasonable, Sobolev takes the kid’s wailing mother, Irina (Irina Nizina), hostage and phones a fellow officer, Pasha (Ilya Isaev), to come in and clean up the mess.

What follows is one very long day of unethical policing, as Sobolev and Pasha try to cover up the accident in order to save the “integrity” (quotes intended) of their department. They dupe Irina into drinking, taking a blood sample so they can blame the death on her. When she refuses to sign the statement, Pasha beats the bejesus out of her scrubby husband (Bykov), who comes back to the station wielding a shotgun and holding two officers prisoner.

The bloody chain of events spirals further and further out of control, until Sobolev winds up taking stock of his actions, leading to a denouement that will ultimately pit him against the corrupt unit he was so desperately trying to protect.

Filmed in real locations with lots of gritty, over-the-shoulder camerawork by Kirill Klepalov, The Major is mostly a well-paced and directed affair, even if Bykov misses some plot points (whatever happened to the wife?) and resorts to dramatic overkill in order to prove his point—basically that Russian law enforcement is one big drunken mother lode of corruption.

Alongside the solid, if rugged, tech credits, the performances are keyed up all the way through, with Nizina particularly explosive as the tormented mom and Isaev — who looks like a Slavic Matthias Schoenaerts — slick and scary as the ruthless, ball-busting Pasha.

Production companies: 1.2 Company, Rock Films

Cast: Denis Shvedov, Irina Nizina, Ilya Isaev, Yuri Bykov

Director, screenwriter: Yuri Bykov

Producers: Alexey Uchitel, Kira Saksaganskaya

Director of photography: Kirill Klepalov

Costume designer: Natalia Klukina

Editor: Yuri Bykov

Music: Yuri Bykov

Sales Agent: M-Appeal

No rating, 99 minutes