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“Newsmakers” is an interesting case, being a Russian revisiting of a recent Hong Kong hit, helmed by an up and coming young Swedish director. The film is based on Johnny To’s 2004 outing “Breaking News”, and the Swede in question is Anders Banke, who scored a minor hit in 2006 with his vampires in the snow horror comedy “Frostbitten”. Proving that it is not only Hollywood which scours Asia for cinematic shortcuts, the film has nevertheless been garnering positive word of mouth for its hardboiled action and vaguely topical themes. Fans of the original, or indeed newcomers can now judge for themselves, as the film now arrives on region 2 DVD via Showbox Home Entertainment with a sadly bare bones release.
The film kicks straight into the action, with a quiet street in the centre of Moscow turning into a warzone as a couple of traffic police accidentally trigger a gun battle between a gang of vicious, highly trained thieves and the detectives who have been tailing them. After a policeman is caught on camera crying and begging for his life, the local law enforcement suffer a huge loss of face. Up steps the young and ambitious Katya (Mariya Mashkova), anxious to prove herself through a plan to portray the city’s police as heroes via a reality television show that follows their bold capturing of the criminals. Unfortunately, after the gang are cornered in a block of flats, they take hostages and try to turn the intense media attention to their benefit, making things even more difficult for the cops.
Make no mistake, “Newsmakers” was not merely inspired by To’s “Breaking News”, but is a faithful remake, which stops not too far short of directly lifting most of its key scenes and indeed shots. Thankfully, Anders Banke is a talented director in his own right, and he gets things off to a superb start with a long, exhilarating urban fire fight that recalls the pivotal set piece of Michael Mann’s “Heat”. The pace never really slackens, and the film remains gritty and intense throughout, with numerous shoot outs and dramatic confrontations.
Although the film lacks To’s odd sense of grace and violent melodrama, it benefits from a more grounded style. Banke certainly seems to be aiming for realism, and whilst he does throw in a few moments of comic relief along the way, he generally keeps things tight and tense. Things do get pretty spectacular in places, and the film is a slick affair with impressive production values, and it certainly works as a top notch blockbuster thriller.
The film’s only real problems lie in the familiarity of its plot and themes, at least for viewers who have seen “Breaking News”. To his credit, Banke executes all of the twists and turns with impeccable timing, never dropping the ball and keeping the uninitiated on the edge of their seats, though for those who know where the film is going it never quite lifts itself above being a retread. The shift in setting from Hong Kong to Moscow doesn’t really count for much, with the high rise building looking decidedly familiar, and with the film not really playing on any cultural differences. Similarly, whilst the idea of a police based reality television show and the concept of law enforcement PR may have been intriguing and original back in 2004, they are now somewhat passé, with real life events and news coverage having rendered them commonplace.
This may well sound like splitting hairs, and indeed “Newsmakers” is certainly a gripping and highly entertaining thriller that even diehard fans of the original should still find worthwhile. Marking Banke as a talented director who will undoubtedly continue his rise through the international ranks, it will now be interesting to see whether it is followed by a Hollywood remake of its own.
Anders Banke (director) / Sam Klebanov, Aleksandr Lungin (screenplay)
CAST: Andrey Merzlikin … Smirnov
Yevgeni Tsyganov … Herman
Mariya Mashkova … Katya
Sergey Garmash … Killer
Maksim Konovalov … Kley
Aleksei Frandetti … Orda
Pavel Klimov … Kolyan