Dir/scr: Scott Z Burns US.2006. 107mins.
An uneasy mix of ecological warning, hyped-up Russianaccents and touching family drama, one can only leave The Half Life Of TimofeyBerezin in sadness that it squanders itspotential.
The directorial debut fromScott Z Burns - co-producer of Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth - has some bits and pieces which are strong.But its commercial prospects are weak simply because the two halves of the filmdon't work together. That said, there is a strong,even poetic, environmental warning aspect to the film that could help itcommercially.
Timofey Berezin (Considine), a worker in a plutonium plant in a Russiantown, is exposed to dangerous levels of radiation owing to the incompetence ofhis superiors. He wants only to provide for his wife (Mitchell) and son beforehe dies.
But intercutwith these scenes of Berezin's often moving situationare sequences of zany petty Russian criminals a la Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels as they stumble from oneself-induced 'hilarious' disaster to another (kidnap and accidentally slay thebig boss's dog by accident; kill the wrong assassination target because theymistook a seven for a one in an address)
For nearly an hour we arenot given any indication as to how these two stories could possibly be related.Eventually the plots lamely come together, as Berezin,who has stolen some plutonium to sell on the black market in order to providefor his family after his death, goes to
The strand involving Berezin is clearly meant to be taken seriously; had Burnsstuck to this story alone and developed its potentially rich themes anddramatic moments then he could have produced a powerfully moving film with animportant environmental message.
But the clash in tonebetween this strand and that of the gangster's could not be more total, and itis here suspicions of possible post-modern hi-jinks - think Tarantino - beginto surface.
Much of the blame is down tothe badly written script, for while all the cast carry their parts brilliantlyin an over-the-top manner filled with brio and energy, the scenes, situationsand dialogue are deeply unfunny and don't work.
Burns punctuates the Berezin side of the story with pronouncements about thenature of life and the universe, abetted by heavily 'symbolic' imagery that areobviously meant to be profound, but which for the most part are moresententious than serious.
If anything, it's thevigorous performances that remain in the mind after the film ends. Paddy Considine is soulful and heart-wrenching as a man, betrayedby the powers that be and fiercely devoted to protecting his family at allcosts.
Radha Mitchell somehow manages to be gorgeous andcompletely believable as wife and mother, and she powerfully conveys the desperationof the situation she finds herself in. But the strength of these performances isseriously compromised by the improbable Russian accents, imposed upon theotherwise accomplished cast, that audiences may have difficulty accepting.
Miranda de Pencier
Guy Jon Louthan
Scott Z Burns, from PU-239 by Ken Kalfus
Tatiana S Riegel
Nikolaj Lie Kaas