Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another Hitman? Russian movie Brat (Brother)

The hero in the Russian movie Brat is Danila Badrov, played by Sergei Bodrov Jr. The movie begins with Danila fresh out of the army heading home. Danila wanders onto a movie set in the countryside and accidentally ruins a shoot. The director’s bodyguard sets out to beat him up and comes out second best. Danila is arrested but released, partly because the Police chief knew Danila’s father. Danila goes home to find his mother unhappy with him. Why can’t he be more like his brother Victor. Go to your brother in St. Petersburg, she urges, presumably so Victor can have a good influence on him.

But Victor turns out to be a hitman for the Russian mafia, and a rather cowardly one at that. He takes an assignment for killing a rival gangster who never goes anyplace without his bodyguards, but is afraid to attempt it. Were you in combat, Victor asks Danila? No, Danila says. He was a clerk at HQ. But do you know how to shoot, Victor persists. Well, yes, they did run us briefly through the rifle range. Good, Victor decides. You go off and kill the mobster. Victor thinks he is probably sending his brother off to his death, but he doesn’t care.

Danila sets about the task in a professional manner, tracking the mobster, disguising himself, and then building a very sophisticated silencer for a gun he took from a local hood. It becomes apparent that Danila was not merely a clerk at HQ. He does have fighting skills. Why would he lie about it? Probably the war against Chechnya wasn’t very popular in Russia. It was probably easiest to claim that he never killed anyone.

Without going into all the details of the movie, Danila adapts his military skills to civilian, gangster, use, but he only kills bad guys, and if he befriends or feels sorry for someone, he helps him. By the end of the movie, Victor has betrayed his brother to save his own life, but Danila goes to his brother’s house prepared, and kills the bad guys, except for one whom he forgives. While Victor sobs on Danila’s shoulder, Danila pats his back and tells him it is okay, but now he should go home to his mother who needs him. Danila is clearly a more skilful assassin than Victor ever was.

So did Danila take over Victor’s job as assassin? No, Danila too leaves St. Petersburg. In a scene reminiscent of Fargo, he has hitched a ride with a truck driver who is driving down an endless, snowy, icy road, perhaps toward Moscow.

So what was this movie about? It wasn’t a simple “Hitman” movie. Yes, Danila could do it, but he didn’t want to keep on doing it. He could kill bad guys when necessary, but he didn’t want to keep on killing them. He tells the truck driver that he was released from the Army but was merely a clerk in HQ. The truck driver sees the sawed-off shotgun, doesn’t believe him, but they share a knowing smile. They may be the same sort of people.

The movie was very popular in Russia. It depicted life in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Times were hard. Danila encounters homeless people, a woman being abused by her husband, a punker who only wants to get stoned. But Danila is more like Robinhood than a hitman. He rights wrongs. He showed something noble and optimistic that Russian movie viewers liked.

A Brat II movie was made, which I didn’t see, but while shooting a subsequent movie, Sergei Bodrov Jr was killed in a snow and rock slide. He was 31. He became a very big star in Russia, but then was killed. Have they made him an icon? They never did recover his body. Perhaps they have Sergie sightings over there to match our Elvis sightings.

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