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Film Maudit 2.0 2021 Review - A DARK, DARK MAN

a dark, dark man review
A crooked cop's day is ruined when he is shadowed by a journalist.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Adilkhan Yerzhanov

Starring: Daniyar Alshinov, Dinara Baktybayeva, Teoman Khos

a dark, dark man poster

If Borat sullied the global image of the nation of Kazakhstan, director Adilkhan Yerzhanov isn't doing his country's tourist board any favours with his latest feature, crooked cop thriller A Dark, Dark Man. Here, rural Kazakhstan is portrayed as a lawless frontier where murders are routinely covered up by cops on the payroll of violent mobsters, where suspects are beaten into confessions just so a cop can clock out on time. But like any good western, the human horrors play out against a stunning natural backdrop.

a dark, dark man review

The opening sequence sets the scene for what's to follow as a cop bribes a mentally challenged man, Pekuar (Teoman Khos), for his semen, which he then smears onto the corpse of a young boy. Pekuar is taken into custody by young but world weary detective Bekzat (Daniar Alshinov, a Kazakh Brad Pitt). At the behest of a local gangster, the plan is for Bekzat to murder Pekuar and make it look like a suicide, but a spanner is thrown in the works in the form of Ariana (Dinara Baktybaeva), a big city journalist who has been assigned to shadow Bekzat in the investigation he never had any intentions of undertaking.

a dark, dark man review

Yerzhanov's premise is so high concept that it's amazing it hasn't been employed before. The closest I can think of are movies like Best Seller and Man Bites Dog, but the difference here is that the reporter tailing Bekzat has no idea of the atrocities he's committing under her nose. Much of the film's inky black comedy arises from how casual Bekzat is in flaunting his position as a guardian of the peace. He bribes, beats up and even flat out murders witnesses while Ariana is just around the corner or waiting in the car outside. When she brings up uncomfortable questions about why so many suspects have apparently taken their own lives while in his custody, he has a well rehearsed line of bullshit to placate her with.


Imagine the bastard love child of S. Craig Zahler and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and you'll have an idea of the distinctively dark delights of A Dark, Dark Man. As with Ceylan's films, Yerzhanov's consists largely of a series of encounters in rooms between Bekzat and the various people who are threatening to ruin his day. From Zahler comes the black-as-night humour, and the curious ability to make us care about someone we'd cross the street to avoid in real life. As anti-heroes go, Bekzat is one of the most immoral to ever grace the screen, and while I wouldn't go so far as to say he earns a redemption, Ariana's probing does gradually get under his skin, leading to him turning the tables, Wild Bunch style, on his oppressors in the final act. There's something of the relationship between Clint Eastwood's gunfighter and Shirley MacLaine's nun in Two Mules for Sister Sara to be found in that of Bekzat and Ariana.

a dark, dark man

With immaculately framed widescreen imagery that often recalls Sergio Leone, A Dark, Dark Man plays out like a Film Noir transplanted to a western setting. It's the sort of movie the McDonagh brothers have been trying and failing to make their whole careers. Unlike Martin and John Michael, Yerzhanov has found a way to balance his story's nihilism with a rich vein of humour. It works equally as a gritty crime thriller, a takedown of Kazakh corruption, and a laugh out loud comedy about a man who just wants to get out of his work clothes by six o'clock.

A Dark, Dark Man
 
screens as part of Film Maudit 2.0 2021 from January 12th - 24th. Click here for details.


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