Prisoner of the Mountains | Chicago Reader

Prisoner of the Mountains

Two Russian soldiers imprisoned in the Caucasus Mountains by a man planning to trade one of them for his son, who's in a Russian prison, are shackled together and forced to endure each other's radically different personalities. The veteran (Oleg Menshikov) attempts to dominate the naive new recruit (Sergei Bodrov Jr.), but their relationships with their captor and his family seem based on mutual trust and respect—so much so that this 1996 movie suggests the prisoners are almost complicit in their helplessness. Scenes in the family's home, the inside of which the prisoners never see, contribute to our ability to empathize with the captors too. The movie's fascination with human behavior is expanded into a scheme even greater than the personal dramas by breathtaking mountain vistas that frequently make the setting of the story a mere speck in the distance. The simmering narrative becomes less than persuasive toward the end, when the largely character-driven drama breaks into shards of plot forced into ironic relation to one another. It's also marred by a couple of digressions into fantasy—contributions of Arif Aliev, one of three screenwriters—that director and cowriter Sergei Bodrov Sr. chose to integrate into an otherwise elegant screenplay.

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