Reevaluating films you forgot about as if you don’t have enough to do already…
Gorky Park (1984)
Director: Michael Apted
The film version of Martin Cruz Smith’s best selling novel could fall into the category of an above average but somewhat forgettable thriller you might enjoy on a rainy day and forget about. But some movies possess an ethereal quality elevating their historical worth. Gorky Park has several. The film’s mood created by James Horner’s bleak score, Ralf D. Bode’s cold cinematography, and stand out performances by William Hurt and Brian Dennehy, brings to life palpably America’s fear of Russia during the Cold War in the 80s. Russia was a diplomatic enemy to America during the eighties. Nowhere else did Russia play the baddy than in American movies. But more than most, Gorky Park abandons the stereotypes to create a bleak and paranoid entity supporting the dark narrative of a KGB murder cover up entwined with the dangerous Russian black market.
William Hurt plays Arkady Renko, an orthodox cop in Moscow who is regularly forced to acquiesce on his hunches and good sense to stay on his team’s good side. This time, on the case of three murdered students, Renko is urged to drop the case in no uncertain terms. But his sense of justice and the brutality of the slayings of three young, somewhat innocuous students compels him to investigate. Through an unlikely turn of events, Renko encounters William Kirwill (Dennehy), a New York City cop investigating the death of his brother in Moscow. While it seems Kirwill would have a hard time going unnoticed in Russia being an NYC detective, the chemistry between the two cagey cops is one of those magical duos created by the pairing of great character actors.
The film captures a moment in time when Russia was American’s sworn and mysterious enemy. Inherent fear of the ruthless and unforgiving KGB encourages dread and paranoia nicely in the narrative. Not allowing much comfort are the dangerous, “nothing to lose” characters involved in the black market. Alexie Sayle (British cult television program The Young Ones co-creator and author) makes a memorable appearance as a black market spiv, a role he has played several times for comedy. This role’s move to a dramatic setting makes a case for sympathy for the character quickly without giving away his fate. The supporting cast in general is a believable group of small-time criminals trying to sneak around a looming government that would show them little mercy were they caught.
The only telegraphed punch is Lee Marvin playing Jack Osborne, a suspicious merchant who quickly becomes the subject of Renko’s attention. Just being Lee Marvin means he’s up to something, but Marvin puts in a great performance while being a team player leaving Hurt room to portray the problem that won’t go away. The case finds Renko and Kirwill digging deeper into the connections given in the movie towards a slightly unlikely but entirely satisfying resolution. Gorky Park works as a thriller, a police narrative, and a document to America’s Cold War fear of Russia. (Billups Allen)