A crime thriller can easily transform into one of the most memorable experiences an audience can have with a movie. In America, David Fincher has mastered the genre and has engineered some of his best pieces of work in it. While in Asia, directors such as Park Chan-wook and Na Hong-ji have propelled crime thrillers to a whole new level.
Now it’s Russia’s time with The Execution. A crime thriller that pulls both from western and eastern influences to construct its plot and atmosphere, and ends up being one of the biggest surprises of the year.
The Execution is written by Lado Kvataniya and Olga Gorodetskaya, and it’s directed by Lado Kvataniya. The film stars Niko Tavadze, Daniil Spivakovskiy, Yuliya Snigir and Evgeniy Tkachuk. The film focuses on Detective Issa; a rough but talented officer of the law who sees his life being turned upside down when a case he thought was closed opens again with the reveal of a new victim of an all too familiar killer. Detective Issa will have to go after this killer once again, but will also be followed by his own demons from the past.
The Execution is really one of the biggest surprises of 2021 for several reasons. The film is Kvataniya’s feature film debut, and it makes the young director come across as someone with far more experience than he actually has. Kvataniya’s direction is full of confidence and just in the first few minutes of its runtime, the movie makes it clear that the director and the team behind it actually know what they’re doing.
Kvataniya’s style isn’t very original at all. It’s very easy to see Fincher’s influence on the young filmmaker; but the lack of an original voice is compensated for by a huge level of execution. If you’re going to copy something, copy from the best, and that’s what Kvataniya does here, but with an extreme level of gusto. Together with his cinematographer, Denis Firstov, who worked on the also excellent “The Collector” a few years ago, Kvataniya manages to create an atmosphere full of dread and fear, which creates the ideal environment for what is essentially a serial killer film. Firstov’s work is actually one of the best elements of the film. The composition and camera work of many scenes are outstanding, and while it might sound weird, The Collector is kind of pretty to look at.
The movie is rock solid on a technical level, but Kvataniya and his co-writer, Gorodetskaya, manage to fill their script with everything that is essential when concocting a film like this one. While the first act can be considered somehow slow, it sets up the necessary pieces so that the payoff in the later parts of the film can feel meaningful and the twists earned. What a number of twists! The writers do an amazing job of being subtle with foreshadowing, but clear enough so that the pieces start fitting one by one in a very organic way.
Kvataniya is lucky enough to have an amazing cast of actors under his command. Each one of the performances is outstanding, and they end up elevating the material quite a bit. Niko Tavadze for example: the protagonist of the film, might come across as if he’s overreacting at different moments during the film, but as the revelations start appearing one by one, then his overacting becomes very fitting for the situation he’s in. Spivakovskiy is also a major revelation, managing to hit the nail with a performance that is both frightful and pathetic at the same time, not an easy feat. Meanwhile, Evgeniy Tkachuk, delivers a performance that is more restrained than the first two, but equally powerful. For a movie lover, discovering all these amazing actors is quite exciting. It shows that there’s talent all around the world, and movie markets such as the Russian are yet to be discovered by the majority of the international audience.
The story also manages to do something very few films are doing nowadays, combining both plot and theme into a whole that makes the film feel coherent in its scope, and intentions. There’s a lot of character work being done here, but every piece of that character development also flows into the creation of a theme, which in this case is true. Truth, both on a personal and institutional level.
It’s quite fantastic to see how the characters express their obvious political opinions, but do it in the most natural way possible. The film merges these opinions and ideas with what is happening in the film on a metaphorical level, instead of just stopping the flow of the story and directing those opinions right at the audiences’ faces. And yes, a counterargument might be put forward because the ideas and opinions themselves are nothing new. But again, the level of execution and sophistication that is in place here goes way beyond what we are used to seeing in commercial blockbusters or even in other well-regarded crime thrillers.
The film’s conclusions focus on the Soviet Union, the time when the plot takes place, but they are still relevant around the world, even today.
The Execution is a rock-solid and even outstanding piece of filmmaking that reveals not only the existing talent of the Russian film industry when it comes to the crime genre. It also puts Kvataniya in the spotlight as one of the most exciting emerging talents in Europe. The start of the film might be a bit rough; as it takes its time to set up all the important pieces, but once the ball gets rolling, it will be pretty hard to stop. You just have to see how it ends.