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Moscow Never Sleeps Review

July 4, 2017 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
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Moscow Never Sleeps Review  

Directed By: Johnny O’Reilly
Written By: Johnny O’Reilly
Runtime: 100 minutes
MPAA Rating: NR

Anastasiya Shalonko – Lera
Yuriy Stoyanov – Valeriy
Aleksey Serebryakov – Anton
Lyubov Aksyonova – Kseniya
Eugenia Khirivskaya – Katya (as Evgenia Brik)
Mikhail Efremov – Vladimir
Rustam Akhmadeev – Arto
Tamara Spiricheva – Vera
Oleg Dolin – Ilya
Viktor Verzhbitskiy – Gorbunov
Elena Safonova – Natasha
Elena Babenko – Marina
Sergey Belov – Stepan
Pavel Khrulyov – Slava

Americans tend to have a certain stereotype come to mind when you mention Russia. Unfortunately, it’s usually negative and that can lead to missing out on some exceptional experiences. Like viewing Moscow Never Sleeps.

Moscow Never Sleeps is a multi-narrative drama about the hidden bonds that connects us all. Powerfully told, it dives headlong into the volatile intersections of contemporary Moscow and the intricate lives of five people. We are introduced to an entrepreneur whose business empire has become under siege by bureaucrats, a teenage girl meekly living out her life inside a broken home, a young man who is forced to choose between his girlfriend and his grandmother; a beautiful singer who is torn between the love of two men, and an ailing movie star who gets caught up in an unusual kidnapping. The movie takes place over the course of one day and the stories weave through Moscow’s cityscape as it celebrates its birthday with a massive fireworks display. Moscow’s beauty and cruelty are on full display in this mesmerizing film.

Before you go comparing this to Babel, Crash, or Magnolia, I’d ask you judge it by its own merits. Johnny O’Reilly has written and directed one of the finest films of the year and gives the audiences an honest look at life in Russia. Yes, while we are focused on the characters on screen, sweeping shots of Moscow make the city a silent partner, inviting you to take in its beauty but warns you not to get too close.

We first meet Anton (Mikhail Pavlik), a real estate developer who has had dealings with government officials who are, surprise, cheating him out of a contract. Anton’s girlfriend, Katya (Eugenia Khirivskaya), is a beautiful singer who is booked to perform at a concert to celebrate City Day, the holiday that celebrates Moscow’s founding. Katya has security in her life but lacking the love that she had with someone else. That someone is Ilya (Oleg Dolin), the man she left because he couldn’t offer her the life Anton has. Love might be strong but it doesn’t pay the bills in Moscow.

Ilya is the son of comedian Valery (Yuriy Stoyanov), who used to be quite famous but has been slowly drinking himself to an early grave. In the hospital, Valery escapes to get a drink and finds himself getting harassed by some hooligans who just want to cause trouble. They force him at gunpoint to accompany them to their housing project where the mood grows darker and the confrontation between Valery and the youth comes to a head in a most poignant way.

Two of these youth sneak their way into a dance club where they encounter two stepsisters. While one is wild, the other is most reserved but under her silent demeanor lies a troubled spirit. Again the action goes back to their housing project and again, the scenes tension grows as you watch a frightening scenario take place.

Like a well rehearsed opera, the film heads straight along to its satisfying conclusion, giving us a realistic ending to a extraordinary day. Moscow Never Sleeps works on a number of levels, starting with the acting. Anytime you layout a number of narratives, you have to rely on the actors to tell the story as not to confuse the audience but still keeping the depth of the script intact. There are no weak links in the acting and I was equally engaged with each of the stories being told. I tend to enjoy subtitled films more than used to because it makes you more focused on the acting and what’s going on in the scene.

As I mentioned above, the establishing shots of Moscow showcase a beautiful city and runs opposite of what many think when they hear its name. You can feel its energy and how the lives of those who live there shape its personality. On the flip side, Moscow Never Sleeps humanizes and grounds the citizens. While cliche to say, they really are just like us and all too often are blanketed by our opinion of their government, instead of seeing them as regular people with dreams and problems.

O’Reilly pulls great performances out of his actors and crafts a story that deserves multiple viewings to fully appreciate the nuances of the script and the performances. We’re just over halfway through with 2017 and Moscow Never Sleeps is a strong contender for a Best Foreign Film nomination.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
A beautifully written and directed film that follows a number of people and how they touch each others lives in ways that can't always be apparent. The city of Moscow provides an energetic backdrop to the strong performances of all involved. Well worth seeking out and seeing!