Wednesday, 1 October 2014
Moscow during the rule of the Totalitarian Bolshevik regime. Athlete Mickey Almon visits the country to attend a sports event, when he is approached by a man who asks him if he can smuggle an allegedly secret document to the West. After thinking it over, Mickey accepts, and is promptly arrested by the KGB who planted the trap. He spends weeks in jail until he is forced to make a recording where he "confesses" of being an American spy. Even though he was told he will be released, the KGB stays true to its rotten nature and lies, sending him to a gulag for 10 years. In the concentration camp, Mickey manages to escape with inmates Kenneth and a Cossack, by constructing a double wall and hiding behind it in a train. The Cossack dies in the snow, but Mickey and Kenneth manage to escape by crossing the Norwegian border.
It is estimated that about 14 million prisoners went through the Soviet concentration camps, the gulags, which left a staggering number of 1,600,000 deaths. This bottom of the human civilization provides, nonetheless, a great source for films, even though it was rarely covered in cinema. Roger Young's "Gulag" is a fair attempt at capturing that insanity on film, even though it made a crucial historical error by placing the film in the present time, the 80s, since the gulag system was already abolished by the late 50s. The story is directed without passion or intensity, whereas the presentation of life in the Soviet concentration camps has been somewhat undermined by having the protagonist only work in the sewing factory, even though in reality the prisoners were used for the worst kind of hard labor exploitation - the only exception is the scene where a guard takes revenge on a prisoner in the forest by having two other guards hold him while he first shoots his left hand, then his right hand, and then his legs. The highlight is definitely the suspenseful escape sequence, where the three inmates prepared a double wall in the train in order to dodge the inspection of the guards and flee. More could have been done with this topic, yet the story flows smoothly, has a couple of moments of inspiration (Mickey voluntarily jumps in the sever canal, laughs, then takes Kenneth with him and then pushes a guard, as well) whereas the best performance was done by David Suchet in a small, but great little role as the wise camp inmate.