The Bomber (2011)

a.k.a Баллада о бомбере (RUS) Ballada o bombere (translit.)

A well made and highly enjoyable Russian Second World War adventure. Revolver UK R2 DVD.

The Film

The Eastern Front in 1943, Soviet Airforce pilot Andrey is assigned a secret mission to fly over German lines and drop a radio operator to join up with the partisans. The radio operator turns out to be his fiance Katia, whom he had not seen since the start of the war. His plane is hit by flak but he is able to crash land and with Katia, escape into the forest. Navigator Georgiy parachuted out of the stricken plane into German hands; held in a prisoner of war camp, he is offered a chance to save himself by working with the Germans to contact and wipe out the guerillas. Andrey and Katia try to join the partisans with the vital radio, but become seperated and Andrey is captured. He is determined to escape and return to the war effort, but back at the airfield, he is accused of betraying the Soviets and runs the risk of a death sentence on his return...

The Bomber started life as a nearly seven hour mini-series for Russian television. This international export version has been cut down to three hours to make a single film but the project seems to have been scripted with such a move in mind and the resulting film flows very cleanly. There is quite a traditional war movie feel as the story follows the three characters as they experience very different sides of the war, but the script avoids a lot of the genre clichés - the love between Andrey and Katia is integral to the storyline and far from being the generic romantic subplots of many other films while Georgiy who could have been painted as a simple traitor is quite a complex character who leaves the audience wondering if his actions are forgivable, given his desire to survive.

The concurrent stories bring in a wealth of supporting characters on the Russian and German sides, all of whom are well defined. No doubt aided by the considerable trimming from the mini-series length, the pacing of the film is brisk throughout its three-hour runtime, although it certainly never feels rushed nor like anything of value to the plot is missing. Although the ususual situation the characters find themselves in means that the storyline is far from being an 'everyman' tale (a la Band of Brothers and its kin) it has a highly realistic small scale feel with a number of well incorporated action scenes and genuine tension built up through some surprising twists and turns. It works towards a highly fitting ending.

Politically the film follows the route of a number of post-Soviet era war films in openly villianising the Soviet military heirarchy, particularly the political officers and distinguishing the good, honest Russian soldiers doing their duty in the face of oppression from both fronts; it is similar to the way that German films set during the war are at pains to seperate the German soldiers from their Nazi leaders. Fortunately, at least in the film version, The Bomber is not saddled with the gruelling patriotic dialogue of many contemporary Russian war films (cf. Taras Bulba (2008)). The Germans are realistically but unsympathetically portrayed and they are shown carrying out a number of well documented war crimes, including the punative execution of prisoners and mass killing of civilians (although the film does not dwell on these and there are no graphic deaths) - no attempt is made to show any of the German soldiers opposing or condemning their orders.

Director Vitaliy Vorobyov had previously worked on WW2 mini-series Pod livnem pul (2006) (which was also edited into a film version released as The Confrontation) and shows an assured but quite straight forward style - eschewing the artistic approach of some of the more art-house Russian war films (cf. White Tiger (2008)) or the hand-held frenetic shooting of most contemporary Hollywood war films. There is some slick editing and the opening CGI air combat scene is very well created, special effects in the rest of the film are mostly practical and look good. Generally made on a small scale, the historical settings all feel authentic and there are some beautiful Russian locations in use. The prison camp is the largest set with a very large cast of extras giving a grimly realistic look. A varied orchestral soundtrack provides good backing throughout.

The film gains enourmously from having a very well cast quartet of actors in the leading parts. Nikita Efremov as Andrey and Ekaterina Astakhova as Katya have great chemistry and she manages to tread the line between vunerable, yet dependable enough to have been tasked with such an important mission. Aleksandr Davydov as the conflicted Georgiy works well with the script to emphasise the ambiguity of his character. German television actor Dirk Martens looks good as the Nazi Officer in charge of Georgiy's secret group and acting as a whole is strong and believable throughout.

While doubtless losing something to the editing that has more than halved the mini-series in length to make this three hour film, The Bomber feels like a fully fleshed out movie and provides a genuinely entertaining war story with some good charactersation, real tension and drama, aided by solid direction and some good acting. Without the cringe-worthy patriotism or the complex art-house stylings of many other modern Russian war films, this is a highly accessible production that will appeal to fans of Second World War films and comes recommended.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? No-one well known.
Directed by anyone interesting? Vitaliy Vorobyov - his other major directoral credit is on WW2 mini-series Pod livnem pul (2006)
Any gore or violence ? A little blood
Any sex or nudity? The brief beginnings of a sex scene but no nudity.
Who is it for? Of interest to fans of Second World War films and historical dramas.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.78 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
A generally good looking print with no damage, some artifacting in cloud scenes early on but otherwise fine.
Audio Russian 2.0 stereo - generally fine, but a handful of lines of dialogue seem to be missing (subtitles appear but nothing is heard) possibly a poor 5.1 downmix.
Subtitles English (burnt on to the print in large type) - a few odd phrasings but the translation is generally okay.
They are rather odd in that two lines of text will appear at once, even if there is a long gap between the sentences in the dialogue, so some text is shown 20 seconds before the character actually says it.
Extras None.
Region Region 0 (ALL) - PAL
Other regions? German DVD and Blu-Ray release as Der Bomber has German dub track and Russian audio, with German subtitles - audio is reported to have missing dialogue lines as well.
Cuts? Uncut as per the international export print, with English language title card before the start and end credits. The film was cut down from a 6 hour mini-series, not currently available on English friendly release.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 16th February 2015.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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