Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Gorky Park (1983)
Studio Line: MGM

Murder, seduction and intrigue in the Kremlin! Written by Dennis Potter (Brimstone and Treacle), from a Martin Cruz Smith novel, Gorky Park is a gripping and brilliant classic! Starring William Hurt, Lee Marvin, Brian Dennehy and Joanna Pacula, this "crisp intricate thriller" (The New York Times) takes you behind the iron curtain!

When three murder victims are discovered in Moscow's Gorky Park - their faces and fingertips removed - detective Arkady Renko (Hurt) is determined to identify the bodies and find the killer. But as a picture of the victims takes shape, the clues point toward involvement not only of the KGB but also of the woman he loves, Irina (Pacula). Now, hunted by the secret police and confronted by an intricate web of deception and treachery reaching to the highest political levels, Renko will stop at nothing to uncover the truth and bring the killer to justice - even if it means guaranteeing his own destructionÖand losing Irina forever.

Director: Michael Apted
Cast: William Hurt, Lee Marvin, Brian Dennehy, Ian Bannen, Joanna Pacula
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English Digital Mono, Spanish & French Digital Mono; subtitles Spanish, French; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 36 chapters; rated R; 127 min.; $19.98; street date 12/19/00.
Supplements: Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD | Novel - Martin Cruz Smith | Score soundtrack - James Horner


Picture/Sound/Extras: C/C+/D-

Since Iím a man - and quite a manly man, thank you very much - I profess no comprehension of the ways in which women think. As such, I have to pose a question to the females in the audience:

Hello, ladies! Howís it going?

No, that wasnít the question. Something more specific puzzles me. You know how lots of movies add romantic subplots for no reason other than to mollify the female filmgoers? I want to know if this actually works. Do women get into these tacked on elements of films that donít need them?

I pondered this question frequently as I watched 1983ís occasionally-quirky but often all-too-familiar detective thriller Gorky Park. Much of the movie presents a compelling and intriguing tale, but significant portions of it are ruined by an obvious, forced and unnecessary romantic angle.

Easily the most unusual aspect of GP stems from its setting. The movie takes place in the Soviet Union, smack dab in Moscow. Three dead bodies are found in the cityís Gorky Park, and each of the victimsí fingertips and faces have been removed. Even their teeth have been severely damaged to render identification extremely difficult.

Into this mess steps detective Arkady Renko (William Hurt), a somewhat plodding government man whose career has been overshadowed by his fatherís notoriety. Nonetheless, Renko proves that heís up to the task as he slowly and deliberately works his way into a plot thatís rife with deception and intrigue.

Inevitably, along the way he meets the apparent love of his life, Irina (Joanna Pacula). And thatís where the film grinds to a halt. Much of the first half of GP presents a crisp and intelligent thriller that kept me quite involved. I enjoyed the change of pace offered by the Soviet setting, and Hurt took on his role with zeal; the accentís dodgy, but he managed to make Renko both weary and stimulating all at once. As the ill-doing slowly unravels, it does so in a manner thatís hard to read and yet paced well enough to keep us along for the ride.

Irina makes a few appearances during the filmís first hour, and every time I saw her I grimaced. Thatís not due to her looks, as Pacula was quite a babe - she makes me want one of them Russian mail order brides! No, my spirits sagged when she popped up just because I knew where the story would eventually go. Irina exists for virtually no reason other than to add the Romantic Interest. Yes, sheís worked into the story in a semi-logical way, but she easily could have disappeared and not hurt the film one iota. Her presence felt absolutely gratuitous and forced.

These flaws are a shame, as Gorky Park possessed a lot of potential. During much of the movieís first half, it lived up to those possibilities, but an ill-conceived and shameless romantic subplot eventually soured me on the production. Granted, some nicely gratuitous nudity helped, but a sure sign that I was bored comes from the fact that even the sight of Paculaís lovely unclothed form still didnít perk up my spirits. Gorky Park is half of a good movie.

The DVD:

Gorky Park appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the movie always appeared watchable, the picture presented a fair number of concerns and never rose much above a level of mediocrity.

Sharpness consistently presented the strongest aspect of the image. Throughout the film, I found the picture to appear nicely crisp and well-defined. A couple of minor examples of softness occurred, but these did not significantly detract for the movieís general clarity. Moirť effects and jagged edges caused no discernible problems, and artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV seemed minor.

Print flaws offered more substantial concerns. At times the picture looked somewhat grainy, and intermittent bouts of speckle and grit also occurred. In addition, I saw some examples of nicks and small hairs. The movie seemed to display more defects as it continued. I never found the image to appear terribly dirty, but the level of flaws was higher than Iíd like.

Colors seemed erratic. At times, they looked quite clean and vibrant. For example, the reds and blues of the various uniforms appeared well-reproduced and vivid. However, other hues often were a bit bland and muddy, and skin tones usually seemed mildly pinkish.

Black levels suffered from some drab qualities as well. I never thought that dark tones came across as appropriately rich and deep; they always seemed fairly murky and muddled. This affected shadow detail, which generally appeared somewhat thick and heavy. Interior scenes came across worst, and they usually were rather hazy. Outside shots appeared more lively and vivid but still didnít often achieve a strong level of clarity. Ultimately, Gorky Park presented a consistently watchable but not very good image.

The filmís monaural soundtrack earned similar sentiments. Actually, for a single-channel mix, it worked better than Iíd expect, but a movie from 1983 really should have offered some sort of multiple channel presentation; mono was primitive even back then.

Nonetheless, the soundtrack seemed generally satisfactory. Dialogue could sound somewhat stuff at times, but it always came across as clear and acceptably distinct with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects also displayed some examples of thin and drab qualities, but they usually were clean and acceptably realistic. Although I didnít care for the filmís score, I thought it was reproduced fairly well; the music showed moderate but surprising brightness and depth. Ultimately, however, the soundtrackís origins mean that itís nothing more than a serviceable but undistinguished mix.

It wonít take me long to discuss the DVDís extras. All we find here is the original theatrical trailer for Gorky Park. Much to my disappointment, MGM rarely offer the nice booklets that used to grace most of their products. They produced some excellent texts and I miss that addition. As it stands, the supplemental content of this DVD is weak.

Gorky Park is a flawed but intermittently effective thriller. The story benefits from an unusual setting and an occasionally rich plot but it sags due to forced romantic elements. Both picture and sound are largely mediocre, and the DVD lacks any substantial supplements. If youíre still interested in the movie, it may merit a rental, but I canít recommend anything more than that.

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