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Leviathan Blu-ray Review

Leviathan (Leviafan) (2014) movie poster Leviathan (Левиафан)

US Theatrical Release: December 25, 2014 / Running Time: 141 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev / Writers: Oleg Negin, Andrey Zvyagintsev

Cast: Aleksey Serebryakov (Kolya Sergeyev), Elena Lyadova (Lilya Sergeyev), Vladimir Vdovichenkov (Dmitri "Dima" Seleznyov), Roman Madyanov (Vadim Shelevyat), Anna Ukolova (Angela Polivanova), Aleksey Rozin (Pasha Polivanov), Sergey Pokhodaev (Roma Sergeyev), Sergey Bachurskiy (Ivan Stepanych Degtiaryev)

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Leviathan, Russian's entry in the 2014 Best Foreign Language Film race, premiered at Cannes, where it won the Best Screenplay award.
It would go on to be recognized in a number of organizations' foreign language categories, winning the Golden Globe, but having to settle for just a nomination at the BAFTAs and the Oscars.

This dark drama is vague at its start, taking its sweet time to inform you of a plot that is consistently growing and evolving. We eventually learn that Kolya Sergeyev (Aleksey Serebryakov) is involved in a legal battle. The excitable man is being represented by Dmitri ("Dima" for short) (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), his level-headed lifelong "bro" who has traveled in from Moscow. Through a barrage of high-speed legalese, the tedious specifics of the proceedings become clear. With Dima as his lawyer, Kolya is appealing a ruling to remove him from his house by the sea. The appeal is denied and an earlier ruling upheld, meaning that Kolya, his wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova), and his rude young teenaged son (Sergey Pokhodaev) will soon see their home destroyed and its land turned over to a Mr. Vadim Shelevyat (Roman Madyanov).

The Oscar-nominated 2014 Russian drama "Leviathan" centers on Kolya Sergeyev (Aleksey Serebryakov), a stubborn man reluctant to give up his seaside home to a corrupt mayor.

Introduced to us as a cross-eyed drunk who pays an intimidating, premature visit to the Sergeyev home, Vadim is casually revealed to be a mayor. He's also a crook, so when Dima blackmails him with a folder of incriminating evidence, Vadim agrees to pay a 3.5 million ruble fee (that's around $67,000 US) rather than subject himself to public disgrace.

But the matter is not resolved as easily as that. The powerful Vadim calls in his trusted confidantes to contemplate his next move. Meanwhile, the Sergeyev family is rocked by an extramarital affair, followed by a troubling disappearance.

While it ends up as a gripping mystery with no fewer than three viable and equally fascinating answers, Leviathan evolves plenty during its substantial 141-minute runtime. It is a compelling character study, an interesting slice of Russian culture, and a contemplation of religious faith. Priests are consulted, much vodka is consumed and the nature of characters is frequently being recalibrated. The title emerges in a scripture quote from one of those orthodox priests, who aptly likens some of the events to those presented in the Book of Job. Biblical overtones aside, this is decidedly a contemporary story with a pulse on certain people of Russia.

Corrupt mayor Vadim Shelevyat (Roman Madyanov) game plans his response to an incriminating blackmail.

Leviathan is the fourth feature film directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, a 51-year-old filmmaker whose debut, 2003's The Return, is evidently well-known and highly regarded. That drama was Russia's submission for the 76th Academy Awards, though it did not claim one of the five available nominations.
Leviathan became the nation's sixth film to compete for the Oscar since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Though perceived a serious contender, it lost to Poland's Ida, quite predictably since that film had also earned a Best Cinematography nomination.

Almost twice as long as that winner, Leviathan gives about as much to think about. Its portraits of police officers, families, children, and romance all captivate while finding a good amount of distance from anything else on American moviegoers' radars.

Opening on Christmas Day in America, Leviathan grossed a touch above $1 million here. It debuted in Russia over a month later to nearly $1.5 million, though it didn't stick around very long amidst some controversy over its unflattering portrayal of ordinary Russians. It reached Blu-ray and DVD from Sony earlier this month, May 2015.

Leviathan Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (Russian), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English Descriptive Video Service, French)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English SDH
Release Date: May 19, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video


Sony Blu-rays are consistently among the best out there and even an indie foreign film like this speaks to that claim. Leviathan's 2.40:1 presentation is sharp, clean, and nicely defined, showing off the often cold and gloomy visuals as intended. The 5.1 Russian DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is also agreeable, with English subtitles offering a clean and seemingly quite accurate translation.

A crew member constructs the film's iconic whale skeleton in "The Making of 'Leviathan.'" Director Andrey Zvyagintsev addresses the Toronto International Film Festival in Russian, his remarks translated by the interpreter to his left.


The Blu-ray's extras begin with a Russian language audio commentary by director/co-writer

Andrey Zvyagintsev and producer Alexander Rodnyansky, which English subtitles translate.

On the video front, where all is encoded in HD, we begin with "The Making of Leviathan" (29:27), a featurette that believes in showing rather than telling. It supplies a lot of behind-the-scenes footage of production and no talking heads. The piece captures the construction of the giant washed-up whale skeleton (made of Styrofoam) but also some humorous cast bits as well.

"An Evening at the Toronto International Film Festival with Andrey Zvyagintsev" (15:04) collects pre and post-screening remarks at last September's TIFF. The director and actor Aleksey Serebryakov are translated by interpreter.

A long reel of deleted scenes (22:18), increasingly a rare luxury for arthouse fare, consists mainly of extended scenes. I wish there was more to be taken from the time commitment required.

Leviathan's US theatrical trailer (2:03) is kindly included.

Finally, "Previews" simply repeats the disc-opening trailers for Whiplash, Foxcatcher, Mr. Turner, Still Alice, Red Army and Wild Tales.

Those still buying DVD will miss out on the deleted scenes and the Toronto International Film Festival piece, both of which are kept Blu-ray exclusives.

The static menu makes use of poster/cover imagery. The disc supports bookmarks and also gives you the chance to resume playback of anything.

No inserts or slipcovers accompany the side-snapped keepcase, meaning you don't get Sony's standard Digital HD UltraViolet inclusion on this release.

Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov) and his Moscow lawyer Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) are bros for life...until they're not.


Keeping you glued and guessing, the Russian drama Leviathan is well worth a look. Sony's Blu-ray treats the film well with a hearty supply of extras and an excellent feature presentation.

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Reviewed May 30, 2015.

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