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Kino on Video presents
The Rider Named Death (2004)

"To me, the revolution is terror. I believe in terror."
- Vanya (Artyom Semakin)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: August 10, 2005

Stars: Andrei Panin, Kseniya Rappoport, Artyom Semakin
Other Stars: Rostislav Bershauer, Aleksey Kazakov, Anastasia Makeeva, Vasiliy Zotov
Director: Karen Shakhnazarov

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 01h:42m:06s
Release Date: August 02, 2005
UPC: 738329040628
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- D+C-C- D

DVD Review

Russian history has featured its fair share of shady figures, with socialist revolutionary Boris Savinkov being one of the most infamous. He wrote many pieces chronicling the actions of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party and their involvement in the killings of numerous government leaders. Director Karen Shakhnazarov decided to put his stamp on this period in Russia's history with the 2004 film, The Rider Named Death. This project barely registered a blip on the international cinema radar, at least in the US, where it played at only one theater. A lack of passionate favoritism or even attention by US film critics probably didn't help it's box office cause either.

The film focuses on Savinkov's (called Georges in the film, and played by Andrei Panin) life circa 1906, when government officials were dropping like flies, and his group is now focusing on offing Grand Duke Sergei Aleksandrovich Romanov (Vasiliy Zotov), the Governor General of Moscow. Georges band of killers includes Erna (Kseniya Rappoport), Vanya (Artyom Semakin), Fyodor (Rostislav Bershauer), and Genrikh (Aleksey Kazakov). Each member of the group has his or her dynamic: Erna is the bomb maker that has strong feelings for Georges, Vanya is a God-loving poet, Fyofor's a peasant who is out to avenge the death of his wife, and Genrikh, a violence-obsessed student attending the local university.

While these revolutionaries have been successful in the past, this particular "mission" is proving to be much more difficult, and their group is rapidly diminishing in numbers. With failure seemingly imminent, Georges' leadership and love for his cause has to be the catalyst that keeps the group's hopes alive.

The Rider Named Death begins with a whopper of a sequence involving one of the revolutionaries killing a government official by easily infiltrating their respective office. From there, things slow down quite a bit, never quite living up to the promise and intensity of its opening. There is far too much talk and very little action from that point on, with much of the discussion focusing on events that only those who consistently study Russian history can relate to. The director might have been more successful if he had provided audiences with a bit of this history at some point in the film. Some more exposition near the beginning (there is a brief piece on this period in Russia, but even some textual information before the opening credits would do) would have been a plus, and sacrificing the power of the opening scene would have been worth it to the picture as a whole.

The performances aren't as convincing as they could have been, either, but much of this is a result of underwritten characters. Panin is just fine as Georges, not exactly surprising as he is the central figure in the tale and his character is drawn up perfectly, but the likes of Vanya and Erna are tough to get a read on. Artyom Semakin is wooden as Vanya, and the lovely Kseniya Rappoport can't translate that beauty into acting prowess as Erna. However, there are hints and actual professions of love and other emotions that never come to fruition. It's as if the fimmakers thought that these were good enough ideas to introduce into the overall story, but not worth the time to even subliminally revisit again.

The predictable and quite bloody conclusion is a joy to watch. Unfortunately, this gives us two excellent sequences that open and close the film, bookending the mess that is the other 90 minutes that could have been good with a little more thought and simple explanation to non-Russian audiences.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The Rider Named Death was shot in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, but it is inexplicably presented in a full-frame format on this DVD. Aside from the inherent cropping of the image, the overall look of things is slightly above average. The color scheme is quite impressive, especially during the early scene in a theater with reds and oranges practically bursting off the screen. There is some dirt that gets in the way, but other flaws are virtually nonexistent. It's just too difficult to get past the lack of a widescreen transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Russianyes

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 2.0 track features very distinct dialogue that blends in well with the sound effects and music. The effects also benefit from liberal surround usage, but there is very little bass presence, which keeps the track from reaching the next level.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only two extra features are the film's trailer and a filmography for director Karen Shakhnazarov.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

The rich, often dark history of Russia is the subject in The Rider Named Death, but if you're looking for an extensive, informative history lesson, along with an involving suspense thriller, this isn't the place. Kino Home Video's DVD treatment of the film doesn't help its cause, thanks to shoddy audio and video and a paltry pair of extra features.


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