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Break Loose | 2013 TIFF Review

Loose Caboose: Uchitel’s Latest Clings to Convention

Russian director Alexey Uchitel returns with Break Loose, a romantically tinged period piece crime drama that’s nicely packaged, but for a film about breaking free from ties that bind, it ironically adheres to formula. Set during the anxiety ridden days leading up to the new millennium, a close knit group of police officers are oblivious to anything outside a current conflict with a local mob boss. While all elements are seemingly in place for a boisterous good vs. bad guys actioner laced with peculiar political shifts taking place in the background, Uchitel’s exercise is akin to the watered down stakes of Gangster Squad sans the hysterically overwrought performances.

It’s 1999, right on the cusp of a new millennium, and a group of four friends that served a tour together in the army all currently work together for OMON, a Russian Special Police Squad tasked with cleaning up the streets. This generally tends to be quite thankless for Herman (Alexey Mantsigyn) and his three buds, Lykov, Shorokh and Grekh, though an untimely scuffle with leading mafia kingpin Boots (Artur Smolyaninov) soon sees them brawling with thugs in the booming, sweaty dance floor of his night club. Upon their first violent meeting, Herman spies a beautiful brunette dancing at the club, Aglaya (Vilma Kutavichute). The two manage to interact over a spilled drink and share an instant attraction. The only trouble is, Aglaya is Boots’ main squeeze, and soon he’s sending his thugs to murder Herman and cause trouble for his friends. Aglaya seems interested in breaking ties with egomaniac Boots and she buys into Herman’s fantastical plan to abscond to Moscow together.

Uchitel utilizes two cinematographers, his frequent collaborator Yuri Klimenko and Alexander Demyanenko, and it is indeed the pulsing visuals that have the greatest vibrancy in Break Loose, jarring camera pans and all. Of course, as the title rather blandly suggests, the film’s greatest motif is that of breaking free and seeking the potential for brand new beginnings. Even the demarcation of time is reaching an important value, about to christen us with a new millennium. Likewise, footage of Boris Yeltsin in the background announcing his plans to turn Russia over to new leadership and, most obviously, Aglaya’s plans to flee her possessive boyfriend, all point to a roiling hunger for necessary change. But what of it?

We’ve seen countless instances of the conflict caused by star crossed lovers like the central pair at hand here, and while the proceedings are slickly paced, Break Loose would have perhaps benefited by more character development, especially between Aglaya and Herman’s attraction, which here appears to be purely sexual. While Uchitel throws a tragic dart our way, it’s not enough to satisfy the gnawing hunger for something more substantial, which Break Loose certainly whets our appetite for.

Reviewed on September 07 at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival – Contemporary World Cinema Program.

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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