Review: Attack On Leningrad

Director: Aleksandr Buravsky
Screenplay: Aleksandr Buravsky & Chris Solimine
Producers: Aleksandr Buravsky, Chris Curling, Peter Doyle, David Gamburg & Andre Gromkovski
Starring: Mira Sorvino, Gabriel Byrne, Aleksandr Abdulov, Vladimir Ilyin, Olga Sutulova, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Year: 2007
Country: Russia/UK
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 110 min

OK, so I sit down ready to watch a review copy of a film I was kindly sent the other day, Attack on Leningrad (A.K.A. Leningrad). Let’s do a bit of research first though I think. Well, it stars Oscar Winner Mira Sorvino, Miller’s Crossing and Usual Suspects star Gabriel Byrne and faithful old Armin Mueller-Stahl – nice line up. Interesting subject matter too, I don’t know much about the siege at Leningrad myself, should be thought-provoking.

Let’s just have a peak at some other reviews though before I start… huh, none at all. Surely it’s hit the festivals if it didn’t get a proper cinema release… hmmm, not really. Straight to DVD then, OK, let’s give it a chance. Hang on, made in 2007, yet no one’s seen or released it yet. Alarm bells ringing, but I’m not a snob, let’s do these struggling filmmakers a favour, let’s put it on.

Oh dear.

Attack on Leningrad is a really bad film. It tells the story of Kate Davis (Sorvino), a British journalist stationed in Leningrad, who gets caught up in the infamous siege during World War II. She is forced into hiding and attempts to survive capture and starvation with the help of Nina (Olga Sutulova) and the family she lives with. Meanwhile, Kate’s boyfriend and fellow journalist Phillip Parker (Byrne) believes she is dead and heads back home to pass on the news to her family, where he uncovers more information on her past. This is a minor diversion though and Byrne actually registers little screentime, despite top billing on most of the film’s advertising. We are also occasionally taken into the corridors of power as Hitler and his cronies mastermind the siege, including Von Leeb (Mueller Stahl), who also does little to justify his DVD cover status.

I had no major problems with the story, the subject matter is obviously powerful; one and a half million people died during the two and a half year siege, mainly of starvation. Unfortunately though, it is handled abysmally. The main problem is the acting. Frequently shoddy ADR and a director who clearly has a poor grasp of English result in an embarrassing display of clunky deliveries and cringeworthy ’emotional’ moments, especially those featuring a child prodigy suffering from severe dystrophy. Much of the film is in Russian and some of the native actors seem to be doing an OK job although it’s always more difficult to say when I don’t speak the language. The film’s lynchpin, Mira Sorvino is struggling here though. Her performance is pretty half-hearted and she stumbles through an English accent, although you sense that there was a large communication barrier between the English cast and the director. I might be wrong, but that’s all I can presume is the reason for such a poor use of stars that are capable of much better things.

On the surface it looks promising, the production design is impressive enough and it’s quite well shot. The opening scene is even pretty good if a little overwrought, where we witness the final stand between the Germans and the remaining Russian forces surrounding the city. Unfortunately, the glossy visuals and the Hollywood cast rub shoulders with dialogue, special effects and OTT music straight out of a cheap TV movie. In fact, some comments on IMDB suggest that this could be a trimmed down version of a Russian TV miniseries. A few plot strands feel too brief too, which back up this theory. TV roots are no excuse for poor quality though, as some of the outstanding work coming from the HBO stables will prove.

It’s a painful experience to watch. I don’t mind a bit of cheesy acting and naff dialogue if a film has fun with it, but when the subject matter demands that it takes itself seriously, everything just falls apart. In a film where children starve to death and people cut off the flesh from bodies in the street just to survive, you feel nothing because the scenes are so bluntly handled and hammily performed.

I could go on, but I don’t think it’s worth it. This is the sort of film that is best forgotten. It had a lot going for it. OK, so Mira Sorvino and Gabriel Byrne don’t have spotless CV’s, but they’ve got talent and the production team clearly know how to dress and shoot a film. Unfortunately, any potential the film had is flushed down the toilet on a wave of half-arsed filmmaking and embarrassingly bad performances.

David Brook
RowThree's UK correspondent.