Directed by Fedor Bondarchuk
You ever seen a Russian version of Independence Day made for Imax? Me neither. And then there was Attraction (supposedly the Russian title translates into Gravity but couldn’t be used for obvious reasons). The latest from TV-actor turned director of Stalingrad Fedor Bondarchuk, this is a fun, if fairly flawed, piece of science fiction from the motherland.
It certainly starts off well. In a visually dazzling scene, coupled with a dance soundtrack that works way better than it oughtta, a flying saucer is grazed during a meteor shower. Despite being built to travel the deepest, most dangerous, parts of the universe this vigilante bit of rock sees it flopping down to Moscow. Taking out a few hundred people in the process- including schoolgirl Svetlana (Rudenok). Making things worse, her friends, and former couple, Yulia (Starshenbaum) and Artyom (Petrov) don’t even have time to grieve. Not with the government slapping an off-limits sign on the crash-site, and placing the city under curfew. Of course, our curious and rebellious young cast waste no time before sneaking out, evading Yulia’s dad Valentin (Menshikov) in the process. At which point they stumble across the handsome humanoid alien Hekon (Mukhametov), who would sooner make love to Yulia than war. Intent on going home, he looks to find the device to power his ship much to Aryton’s disapproval. In the meantime, his ship absorbs a heck of a lot of the local water supply, forcing local government to ration it. A lot of scared people in cramped, authoritarian, conditions and dehydrated – bound to go well, right?
Much to the credit of the writing team, the characterisation here is far more in-depth than could be reasonably expected in a Roland Emmerich equivalent. Effortlessly combining small-scale drama with po-faced political decision making in the face of riots, and even some room for uncomfortable Russian nationalism, the storytelling is layered. For the first two acts, Yulia, Valentin and Artyom make for an engaging trio, with each having enough faults to make them relatable plus giving proceedings a human cost. Their relationships are refreshingly complicated and each has a clear, believable, objective and sense of purpose in the wider plot. Hekon’s role is almost inevitably less interesting. Much of his dialogue descends into the sorts of grand, didactic, statements about humanity’s value that people who don’t like sci-fi often associate with it. Yet his love story with Yulia is delicately handled and provides a surprisingly emotional backbone to the spectacle – even if some of the more twee bits of their interaction grind the scenario’s sense of urgency to a halt.
That is until act three. It’s not that the movie becomes bad per se. But in its struggle to force more conflict than the story can give organically a character is unconvincingly changed from a decent antagonist into a run of the mill villain. It’s not a wholly illogical change, but it does feel cheap. Similarly, the film’s focus leaves some of the more interesting, less conventional, points about police brutality in favour of a preachy ending that too much resembles the more irreverent, climax of The World’s End without the winks and mawkishness. Try as it may, Attraction simply isn’t smart or original enough to answer the big questions and is at its worst when it tries to blend genre loyalty with musings on mankind. Although this may be asking too much for what’s essentially a blockbuster, albeit with more pathos and a tighter script than usual. Granted, from a cultural perspective, it may feel novel. However, a big part of its charm may be in showing audiences a movie doesn’t have to be western to be accessible.