Fall of a Kingdom others decent action and is beautifully shot. But sadly lacks in the representation and importance of the characters within. The overly long first act drags but soon picks up to reach a satisfying conclusion.
Based on Ivan Franko’s historical novel Zakhar Berkut. Fall of a Kingdom follows Zakhar (Robert Patrick) trying to live a peaceful life in his village on top of the Carpathian Mountains with his family. Wife Rada (Alison Doody) and sons Maksim (Alex MacNicoll) and Ivan (Rocky Meyers). Burunda Khan (Tserenbold Tsegmid) comes to take over the region. Zakhar attempts to bring an allegiance with local leader Tugar (Robert Flanagan). War breaks out showing who is a whose true friend.
People will talk until they are blue in the face on how this story isn’t similar to the original novel, though it is difficult to tell the tale of a 90-year-old warrior and his 8 sons and not lose some of the characters and importance of the overarching story. There would be a fear of us just dropping sons at random or have over-sentimental moments with their deaths when we get into the battle sequences. By bringing it down to two, we can give both sons a better character arc as well as their father.
There are of course the standard battle sequences that we have seen before. The narrow mountainous corridor that the locals can use to their advantage, the character sacrifices etc. We have seen these all before, but in truth, it is hard not to create new moments. These action sequences are excellent, with a great sense of realism to the movements.
When a character gets hit, it feels like they have been hit. The fight choreography is great and other than the odd graphic scene we are kept away from seeing too much in relation to bloody violence. The story is basic, but effective and works best when we move away from the melodramatic sequences.
The possible stand out of Fall of a Kingdom is the cinematography and production design. This is an utterly gorgeous looking film, helped massively by its setting. Anytime we venture into the forests we feel smothered and cautious. Directors John Wynn and Akhtem Seitablayev know how to capture this environment and this expert work helps elevate the other all film.
This is a film that is heavily directed to those who already know the story of these characters and specifically the Berkut clan. The trouble is, audiences who do not know these characters are not given a great breakdown of who they are and why we should root for them other than them seemingly being good well-meaning people in comparison to others they encounter. We as an audience need to know the gravitas of these characters to feel more for them when the events transpire. A simple prologue would have worked wonderfully in Fall of a Kingdom. Instead, we get a brisk look at what chaos is occurring in the region thanks to the Moguls.
A difficult task for these European and any product that is non-English based is when they use English speaking actors for the roles. Do they put on perhaps terrible accents to sound remotely regionalised? Or do they stick with their dialect? In Fall of a Kingdom, they punt for the later and it causes a problem. The TV show Vikings showed how actors from UK and Ireland, North America and Australia can put on effective Nordic accents, so why could there have been no attempt to do the same here for Eastern European/Ukrainian?
This decision is all the more perplexing due to how great the film looks. This isn’t a small production by any means. With the production values being so high it is disappointing to see no attempt at having these characters try for an accent to help create as real as possible of a setting. It takes you out of the film hearing Irish, English and American accents. It is also just plain unnecessary.
This causes another issue. For a story that is so enveloped in the Ukrainian mindset. Why on Earth are there no Ukrainian actors in the key roles. I am sure that there are actors of the same if not better calibre that we have here? It is understandable as to why Robert Patrick is here as it is a trend for films using the English language but made from foreign countries to utilise a name actor. Much how Hollywood utilises specific Asian actors to try to get commercial notice in those markets. Otherwise, why not have more actors at worst from the region in here?
That said, all of the performances are solid with everyone being more than serviceable in their roles. With Tserenbold a highlight. He can play the emotional chord when his son is killed early on. His scene as he kneels beside his fallen son words to provide a little bit of conflict in how we feel towards him. We know we should not like him, he is wanting to ravage through this beautiful, peaceful land in as violent away as possible.
Despite all of this. It should be noted how important this film is to the Ukrainian film industry. This is an industry that has long lived under the shadow of Russia and its films have not quite had a Hollywood style push that it deserves. Although there are the obvious flaws in Fall of a Kingdom, there are signs that this is just the beginning for an industry that could very well shine as bright as other European contemporaries such as the Polish industry.
Fall of a Kingdom has a lot to enjoy for a medieval action film. As said, there is the feeling that this is the film that could help commercial Ukrainian cinema. It is just a shame that there wasn’t more of a Ukrainian presence spread throughout the film.
Signature Entertainment presents Fall of a Kingdom on DVD and Digital HD from November 30th.
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