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After an evening on the ice in Moscow's Gorky Park, the bodies of three young skaters are discovered in the snow, their faces stripped and their fingertips removed to conceal their identities. Who were they and why were they murdered? Dedicated to the point of obsession, police inspector Arkady Renko (William Hurt) is committed to solving the mystery, despite the interference of KGB officials and their goons. Renko's investigations lead him to Irina, a beautiful young dissident (Joanna Pacula) who refuses to tell all she knows, but has connections to Jack Osborne (Lee Marvin), a secretive American fur trader who has friends in high places and, for the price of flesh, provides a conduit to the West.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
In the 21 years since Dennis Potter adapted Martin Cruz Smith's bestselling novel, the Cold War has ended, the Soviet is no more, the Iron Curtain has lifted and the KGB doesn't conjure the same menace of cloak and dagger that it did long ago. We, as viewers, are older and wiser; our perceptions have changed and in this terrorist age Smith's famously far-fetched and convoluted work doesn't seem so preposterous anymore.

If anything, Gorky Park now seems more lucid on DVD than it did at the cinema, where the mere crunch of an ice cream cone or the crackle of cellophane would have doomed those distracted to losing the plot. It still demands maximum attention, mind you, when in the crucial scene between Hurt and Brian Dennehy in the dimly-lit hut the motive for the murders is revealed and all but thrown away.

Some old distractions remain...Hurt and his British co-stars Ian Bannen. Richard Griffiths and Ian McDiarmid play Russians without an inkling of an accent; Muscovite car dealer Alexei Sayle even has a hint of Cockney and the KGB agents are more West End than Red Square. Once these concessions are granted, however, Gorky Park becomes a gripping yarn and you come to realise that Hurt, who is all guile, intensity and determination, has rarely been better, either before or since.

The verbal jousting between Hurt and the wily white-haired Marvin at the men's health club and later in a restaurant are highlights in the literate and well-structured script; Bannen does immaculate work as a cackling Chief Prosecutor, who is definitely not to be trusted and Dennehy as a vengeance-seeking U.S. detective was (and still is) one of the most convincing actors around. Ian McDiarmid has a scene-stealing cameo as a ghoulish Russian anthropologist who is called on by Renko to reconstruct the faces of the unknown victims from their sawn-off heads. "Fetch me the grub worms," he calls to an assistant when he needs a fist-full of flesh-eaters.

And later, when admiring Renko's bone structure he purrs: "Promise me I can have your face when the breath has left your body." The surprise is Roman Polanski protégé Joanna Pacula, the Polish actress, whose cool beauty and presence in her first Western film should have guaranteed a more substantial career. Apted sustains the intrigue with dexterous dialogue, colourful characters and a cracking pace, but he bungles the execution scene itself...in flashback it is shown in broad daylight but the opening scenes indicate that the killings were done at night. No-one can be trusted and no-one can hide.

Conflict rages between Renko representing the Police Militia, who control the investigation and his KGB adversaries whose interference is constant and fatal. Renko defines the difference in their modus operandi when told that "the KGB have better cars," he replies: "but they don't always take you where you want to go." Filmed in Helsinki (standing in for Moscow) this absorbing and unconventional detective story has not only withstood the test of time, but surpassed it. I suspect that it will still be worth seeing in another 20 years from now.

Published September 16, 2004

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(US, 1983)

CAST: William Hurt, Lee Marvin, Brian Dennehy, Joanna Pacula, Ian Bannen

DIRECTOR: Michael Apted

SCRIPT: Dennis Potter (based on the novel by Martin Cruz Smith)

RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes

PRESENTATION: 1.85:1 Anamorphic widescreen. Dolby digital 2.0 mono. Languages: English, Spanish, French. Subtitles: French, Spanish


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: MGM Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: September 15, 2004

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