Friday, July 01, 2005

Baltic Storm (2003)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

James Cameron, while he was promoting TITANIC, liked to describe 1912 sinking of the world's most modern and luxurious passenger liner as a moment which challenged general belief in omnipotence of modern technology, paving wave for even more heart-breaking disillusionments of 20th Century. One of such disillusionments happened on September 28th 1994 when a ferry boat "M/S Estonia" sank on the route between Talinn and Stockholm, carrying 852 people to the bottom of Baltic Sea. This proved to be the worst naval disaster in recent European history and the victims' families had to deal not only by unimaginable failure of sophisticated technology and precautions designed to prevent such tragedy from happening, but also by the way governments handled the investigation. There were many unanswered questions leading to multitude of conspiracy theories, the best known being based on the book by German investigative reporter Jutta Rabe. Fictionalised adaptation of her work became BALTIC STORM, 2003 thriller written and directed by Reuben Leder.

After a prologue that reminds the audience about the end of Cold War and emergence of new countries like Estonia, the plot introduces Jutta Rabe's alter ego in the form of Berlin TV reporter Julia Reuter (played by Greta Scacchi). In September 1994 she receives tip from Gehrig (played by Dieter Laser), former Stasi official and her long-time informer - a top Russian weapons scientist and valuable cargo of top secret weapons are being smuggled from Estonia to Sweden on board "M/S Estonia". When Russian intelligence services hear about, they send a covert team that kills a scientist and blow up the ship. Only few people survive, including Swedish lawyer Erik Westermark (played by J├╝rgen Prochnow) whose son went missing. He later swears that he saw some survivors officially declared missing while recuperating in hospital. He and Julia team up in order to discover the truth, but their crusade is being hampered from all quarters, most notably by Estonian and Swedish governments, which take great pains to prevent people from accessing the wreck and recording evidence of explosion.

Estonia disaster was a real and very traumatic event for the Baltic nations, especially small Estonia. The audience is reminded of that in a documentary footage that represent the most powerful and moving pieces of BALTIC STORM. Unfortunately, those clips only make the rest of the movie look banal and exploitative. Plot trying to connect those events with a sale of former Soviet technology, ex-KGB hitmen, silencing of inconvenient witnesses and conspiracy even more sinister than those described in THE X-FILES is unconvincing, especially when Donald Sutherland appears only in order to represent the bogeyman-like US government. Instead of making a case against official truth, BALTIC STORM looks like a collection of cheap B-movie cliches. Even worse is the abysmal direction, use of annoying techno music for action scenes, but hardly anything can match the unimaginably awful levels of acting. Prochnow, whomore or less sleepwalks through his role, is actually one of the better performers in this film. In the end, BALTIC STORM is going to achieve the opposite of what its makers intended - instead of giving the true, or at least probable, account of what really happened in Baltic a decade ago, this film insults the memory of victims by reducing them as convenient plot element in uninspired B-movie. BALTIC STORM is another movie that proves old adage of history repeating itself first as a tragedy than as a farce.

RATING: 2/10 (-)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

In reality, Baltic Storm poignantly tells the story of a courageous journalist out to find the truth about a multi-government cover-up. It is a great movie with a tightly-paced script and direction. It poses the question, ever more pertinent given today's politics, what do our governments cover up in the name of protecting the world's balance of power? What information is too sensitive to be public, and to whom is the truth owed? The filmmakers did an excellent job of making powerful arguments for both the protagonists and the villains. You couldn't help but feel for the Russian operative trying to provide for his grandson, and his argument about protecting Russia's patrimony was moving. It is rare that a film can truly help you to understand the mindset of someone responsible for something as abhorrent as the sinking of the Estonia. And Donald Sutherland and Jurgen Prochnow turned in fantastic performances. This picture was made for a fraction of the cost of the 'Titanic', and it's unfair to compare the two. This is not a disaster film.


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