All the ingredients are here for a fine thriller – political discord, corrupt cops, ruthless proto-oligarchs, and car chases, all set against the backdrop of the waning years of Yeltsin, and the massive social and political change that would take place under Putin ushering Russia into the new Millennium.
Alas, despite its slick facade and moments of overly choreographed brutality, one’s left after Alexey Uchitel’s Break Loose simply wanting more – wanting more believable interactions between our characters, more believable consequences for some of the actions, and simply more excitement.
This group of Special Police that have a beef with a local developer, tied to a passionate betrayal of love, should provide enough spice to keep things interesting, but even with a brisk running time things seem to drag. Save for one bravado stunt involving a train, there’s little even to fall for on the action front, with fights mostly consisting of wild swinging of arms, and a seemingly preposterous refusal to end a given gang fight with a gunshot or two. Even the car chases are pretty muddled, presumably the white hatchback that is nearly murdered throughout the film a metaphor for a greater nation.
As one set of goons is set against another, it’s hard to feel for any of these characters. None of them is particularly likeable or even charismatic, and it’s hard to see what ties them together excepting loyalty, a factor that they seem to overstep quite often. As for the love triangle, well, it’s even harder to see what the token beautiful woman sees in either man, so it’s equally hard to take her seriously.
With a passing undercurrent of homophobia that bristles given recent events in the country, there’s also clearly a slew of cultural late-90s touchstones that may simply slip by for non-Russian audiences. Still, the overt Spice Girls-like singers, the writhing club goers and the militant factory workers hardly seem to need decoding, and their overt nature would probably have worked better with a little less cacophony or two-dimensionality.
For me, Break Loosesimply falls pretty flat, lacking either originality or a visceral thread to tie the events together. A hackneyed and telegraphed end, alas, did little to make me feel better about having stuck with it for its running time. Still, as a relatively innocuous gang picture, there may be something here for a receptive audience, but I’d suggest there’s plenty more better films to choose from in this idiom to get a much more rewarding payoff.