If you haven’t been put off by the Sochi Games and their “Get Lucky”–singing police choirs, you should know there’s more epic strangeness on the way. Russia’s biggest box-office draw of all time is opening in America: a nationalistic pageant suffused with the same rebranding (by careful omission) that marked the Olympics’ opening ceremony. Turns out they’re pretty good at it.
Stalingrad takes WWII’s bloodiest battle—the German-Russian standoff that claimed an estimated 2 million lives—and simplifies it into a skirmish between five Soviet heroes (plus one downtrodden woman who becomes their symbol of home) versus a small detachment of Nazis who attack to reclaim the occupied building. At first, the idea seems ingenious, but inevitably, complexity is sacrificed: The Russians are either jokey-brave or sincere-brave, while a vicious German colonel, usually seen eating or yelling, is your typical pig.
Details, shmeetails: The appeal here is an almost choking sense of grandeur. Every moment is filled with slo-mo explosions, a constantly drifting camera, a computerized grayscape (much like Saving Private Ryan’s) and a chest-beating orchestral sweep by Twin Peaks’ Angelo Badalamenti. Hollywood does this too; truth be told, Russia’s high-tech whitewash goes down smooth like vodka.
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