out of 4
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Review by Dragan Antulov
2½ stars out of 4
Violent collapse of former Yugoslavia made life miserable for
majority of its inhabitants, and that included even celebrities. One of
those celebrities was Rade Serbedzija, one of the country's best
known and revered actors. In early 1990s "wrong" ethnic background
and his unwillingness to sever cultural and other links with other
parts of former federation have made him a "non-person" in
Tudjman's Croatia, with television programme editors making sure
that audience never sees any film or TV show with his face in it.
Serbedzija, however, managed to compensate lack of domestic
exposure with the start of international career. Unfortunately, he
quickly realised that he couldn't have expected to be viewed as a star.
For majority of world's audience (and younger Croatian viewer) his
face is associated with stereotypical roles of Russian villains. One of
the first such roles was in THE SAINT, 1997 action adventure
directed by Philip Noyce.
Title protagonist of the THE SAINT is Simon Templar, gentleman
thief who had been invented by author Leslie Charteris in 1920s.
Simon Templar's adventures have been the subject of numerous
novels, films and TV show (which was quite popular in former
Yugoslavia in early 1970s). Many claim that character of Templar,
suave and mysterious international operator, in many ways served as
an inspiration for James Bond. Ironically, in 1990s it was the
renaissance of Bond films that served as inspiration for Paramount
Pictures to try to start another big movie franchise of its own.
The movie starts with a prologue that shows traumatic childhood of a
protagonist and later shifts to present time when we meet Simon
Templar (played by Val Kilmer) as one of the world's best burglars.
Templar's specialty is stealing of important data and his clientele
includes world's most powerful individuals, corporations and
governments. One of his latest targets is Ivan Tretiak (played by Rade
Serbedzija), former Soviet communist boss who became an oil
billionaire in new, capitalist and democratic Russia. Tretiak knows
how to recognise talent, so he hires Templar to help him in his latest
power scheme. Young scientists Dr. Emma Russell (played by
Elisabeth Shue) has discovered cold fusion - process that could bring
almost indefinite power supply out of few litres of water. Tretiak
needs this formula in order to present himself as a national saviour to
the impoverished masses of Russia. Templar uses his seductive
abilities in order to steal the formula, but along the way he discovers
that he has fallen in love with beautiful, idealistic scientist. That
would create serious complications in his relations with Tretiak and
Jonathan Hensleigh's and Wesley Strick's script takes equally
"serious" approach to the issues of cold fusion and post-Communist
politics, and that represents stark contrast to the direction of Philip
Noyce who had used authentic Moscow locations to create cold, dark
and menacing atmosphere. Despite this dichotomy, the film works,
thanks to Noyce's skill in creating suspense and staging elaborate
action scenes. On the other hand, Noyce's efforts are almost ruined
by terrible miscasting of Elisabeth Shue as world's scientist. Shue
almost looks like she took this role as a joke and this is most evident
in the scenes where she presents her ideas in the same manner stoned
teenager would try to perform during school play. Unlike her, Val
Kilmer took the job very seriously, obviously being intrigued by
endless disguises that are part of Saint's character - that gave him
opportunity not to play one but many roles, doing very good job in
any of them. Yet, Serbedzija (whose daughter Lucija appears in small
role of Russian prostitute) probably had the easiest job of them all -
for the role of corrupt post-Communist politician with messianic
complex he could simply find inspiration in people directly or
indirectly responsible for his plight.
Copyright © 2003 Dragan Antulov
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