Storm
R1 - America - Film Movement
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (16th April 2010).
The Film

Like “Troubled Water” (2008), “Storm” is another recent release by Film Movement on DVD that I’m surprised didn’t get a wider audience when it was in theaters last year. For most in the United States, this DVD will be the first time you’ll be able to see Hans-Christian Schmid’s gripping legal thriller, and that’s a shame. Awarded five prizes in various German Film Festivals, including the 'Amnesty International Film Prize' at the Berlin Film Festival, and 'Best Film' at the Munich Film Festival, 2009's “Storm”, not to be confused with 2005's film of the same name is a picture worthy of such praise.

Hannah Maynard (Kerry Fox), a prosecutor for the International Criminal Court of The Hague, a special tribunal charged with putting war criminals and genocidal maniacs behind bars, has one of the biggest cases in her long career – the trial of Goran Duric (Drazon Kuhn), a general, charged with, among other things, the ordering of a pregnant woman to be forcibly (dragged by the hair) taken into custody, as well as the general participation in the ethnic cleansing that ran rampant in the Balkans during the 90's – suddenly thrust upon her by new boss, and former colleague, Keith (Stephen Dillane). But, when the opposing counsel questions her key witness’ testimony and said witness, Alen Hajdarevic (Kresimir Mikic) crumbles on the stand, Hannah and her fresh-faced aide Patrick (Alexander Fehling – the solider celebrating the birth of his son at the bar in “Inglorious Bastards” (2009)), travel to the former Yugoslavia to investigate, setting in motion a chain of events that ends with the sudden death of Alen. At the funeral, Maynard then meets Mira Arendt (Anamaria Marinca), Alen’s Westernized sister, and with her help uncovers a plot (which includes a rape camp) far more sinister, and damaging to Duric than originally imagined.

With this new element to her case, Hannah travels back to the Netherlands; Mira by her side, armed with the ammunition that she is sure will bring justice to the forgotten victims of the war. But justice isn’t always true and fair. Unfortunately, legalese nonsense prevents Mira from testifying about the true nature of Duric’s crimes, and so it seems that she put herself, young son Simon (Joel Eisenblätter), and husband Jan (Steven Scharf) in the cross hairs for nothing. Arendt’s face plastered on Duric-loyal newspapers in her homeland, and lambasted with claims of being a liar and traitor, Mira is a broken woman. She wants to testify, but to testify fully and truthfully; not in a half-hearted attempt to find justice, based on half-truths and secret; she has no other choice, now that’s she’s been made a criminal in her native country. Hannah feels her witness’ pain and wants true justice too, so the prosecutor makes the dangerous decision to say, “screw the politics”, and follows the letter of the law to the end – even if it means the end of her career.

I viewed “Storm” as a sort of “Michael Clayton” (2007). Like Tony Gilroy’s understated thriller, which was in most part an unfiltered window into the lives and actions of fully three-dimensional people, “Storm” offers viewers a gateway to events that feel realistic, characters who feel raw, and both which exude an authenticity. The film almost feels like a real-time documentary. And while the some of the magic of “Clayton” was distilled by the presence of hugely recognizable star George Clooney, and to a lesser extent, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton and the late Sydney Pollack, “Storm’s” realism, with it’s cast of less familiar (but certainly not less talented) stock, isn’t hindered at all. Even the cast members who are passably recognizable – Fox and Dillane – don’t distract or serve in anyway as detrimental to keeping the film from feeling like it’s is a work of fiction.

Perhaps this authentic texture is present because the film is so influenced by actual events. The names may have changed, but the people, especially Duric, are based in some part on truth. The locations – like the hotel – and the actions carried out there –rapes and imprisonments – are tragically and horrifically based on real places and real events. Even the trial, though mildly fictionalized and fairly generic, serving more as an overview of all the trials of people like Duric, is based in part on a more earthly, concrete truth. The fictional war criminal Goran Duric is less fictional than you’d like to believe, and his sentencing and trial more real than you’d hope. The Duric character is a relic from a time when “Storm” was originally going to be a tried and true docudrama – an accurate depiction of the trial of one Croatian General named Ante Gotovina. The authors changed their idea, but certain elements remain, such as Gotovina’s capture, which is mirrored in Duric’s – who was taken in the night from his seaside residence in Spain.

“Storm” is an intriguing dissection at the often-overlooked cross-section of world politics and international law. One often negatively affects the other, and unfortunately it’s the law that is trampled, and not the politics that are trumped. Deals are made it back rooms to satisfy governments, witnesses are made the enemy of their homeland, living in fear that once they give their testimony (or are in transit to do so) they will need to be constantly surrounded by a protected detail of armed men, or they may be assassinated. It’s an all too unfortunate truth; the victims and the witness’ very often get the shaft of any deal that gets done. And most of the time, true justice is rarely served. “Storm” captures this beautifully, with sharp editing, apt direction, the aforementioned script, and a score that all plays into this dialog on the flaws in the supposedly democratic legal process. Smart, well acted and all around captivating, I thoroughly recommend.

On a side note, although technically a German film, mainly funded by a German production company, and written and directed by the German-born Hans-Christian Schmid, “Storm” stars an international cast headlined by a New Zealander and, despite featuring multiple languages with corresponding English subtitles, is primarily an English language production. And they talk, in English and other languages, a lot (which would be my one main criticism; the film is at times overly talky, and the dialogue is a bit heavy handed).

Video

From the opening moments of the transfer, beginning on a bright sandy beach, “Storm’s” 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer exhibits a mostly pleasing appearance. The film’s color palate is on the cooler side, but it remains attractive and not too dull. Contrast is tight, natural and overall excellent, with superb blacks. Detail is decent too, and the print is free of defects and damage. All in all that doesn’t sound too bad, and save for one (rather unpleasant) issue, the film looks quite good. Unfortunately, said issue is a biggie – the entire film is infected with a tickly applied, persistent layer of edge-enhancement, giving many scenes an over-processed, much harsher look. Long shots, medium shots, close ups all have an over sharpened, edgy texture and it almost completely ruins the otherwise splendid visuals. Those with smaller displays (40” and below) will likely not notice – or notice as much – the edge ringing, but even on my moderate 46 inch screen it became bothersome, and a totally unattractive quality on my even bigger set.

Audio

Because they speak a wide array of languages in this film, including, but not limited to: English, German and Serbian, I’m hard pressed to call this an English language track – perhaps we’ll just say the film is Multi-lingual? No matter, the film is presented in passable Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, and because the film is mostly dialogue, the effect of the stereo mix is not as damning as it could be. However, again, as I stated in my “Troubled Water” review, I have to wonder why Film Movement is limiting so many of their DVD's to 2 channels, as the films on them were obviously (because most of them are modern productions with some semblance of a budget) intended for a multi-channel surround format. Regardless, the audio is servable, without any major issues.
Optional player-generated English subtitles are included for the various foreign language exchanges in the film, appearing within the active picture area, above the lower letterbox bar.

Extras

“Storm” includes just the bare essentials for a Film Movement disc – a short film, skimpy text extras and a few promotional bonuses in the form of bonus trailers and such that help sell the DVD series.

Three text-based biographies are included, one each for the films main cast and director:

- Hans-Christian Schmid (Writer/Director); 2 pages.
- Kerry Fox (Hannah Maynard); 2 pages.
- Anamaria Marinca (Mira Arendt); 2 pages.

A theatrical trailer for “Storm” runs 2 minute 10 seconds, in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen.

“Also from Film Movement” is a text-based feature that simply lists a few of their recent DVD titles including such films as Shane MeadowsSomers Town” (2008), Kenneth Bi’s “The Drummer” (2007) and Erik Poppe’s “Troubled Water” (2008).

“This Month’s Short Film….” – every month Film Movement includes a short film with each main feature. Accompanying “Storm” is “Toyland” an Academy Award winning film from Germany, directed by Jochen Alexander Freydank. 1942; a young boy asks his mother why their neighbors, a Jewish family of three, are so depressed, to which she responds that they do not want to go on the trip that they are leaving for in the morning. When the boy inquires where their neighbors are going, the mother responds “Toyland”, but doesn’t elaborate. The next morning the woman wakes to find her boy gone and fears the worst – that he too boarded the train for the Nazi’s death camps, believing them to be his ride to the happy-sounding Toyland. 13 minutes 49 seconds.

‘About Film Movement’ includes a short text-based description of the DVD series and features a short trailer advertising the company.

Bonus trailers are for:

- "Film Movement" spot runs for 30 seconds.
- “Mine” runs for 2 minutes 42 seconds.
- “Troubled Water” runs for 2 minutes 5 seconds.
- “For My Father” runs for 2 minutes 4 seconds.
- “The Trap” runs for 3 minutes 43 seconds.
- “Under The Bombs” runs for 1 minute 44 seconds.
- “Fraulein” runs for 2 minutes 7 seconds.

Overall

“Storm” is a fantastic legal thriller. Film Movement’s DVD however, is merely adequate. The video is decent, but hampered by some unfortunate edge-enhancement, the audio passable, and extras expectedly limited. Recommended on the quality of the film itself – assuming of course, that they don’t mind talky pictures.

The Film: B+ Video: C Audio: C Extras: F Overall: C

 


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