You know how they say that every writer plays god with his characters? Director Nikolay Lebedev, in The Crew, seems to have played a particularly merciless version. He throws everything but the kitchen sink at them. From lava-spewing volcanoes to mid-air transfers during a raging storm, the lead character, flight trainee Alex McCoy (Danila Kozlovsky), braves experiences so terrifying in the film that any day without a large-scale tragedy would qualify as a happy day for him.
Director: Nikolay Lebedev
Cast: Danila Kozlovsky, Vladimir Mashkov, Agne Grudyte
Storyline: A trainee pilot does things that would put The Avengers to shame
The Crew is a Russian film dubbed in English for our benefit; the dubbing though is thoroughly soulless and detached. Perhaps the original’s dialogues were more emotive? There’s also a lot of expository dialogue. When veteran pilot Leonard (Vladimir Mashkov) walks into his home, his wife says, “The husband works. The wife works. The son is an idiot.” It isn’t so much conversation, as it is a placard held up to the audience with information about the family.
Until halfway into the film, I wasn’t sure why effort was taken to bring this Russian film to us. The answers are all in the second half. You know how we are known for providing a new lease of life to average disaster films from Hollywood? Well, The Crew is that film; only it’s from a different country. From a series of listless developments, the film, without warning—much like the flight that Leonard and Alex are on—suddenly turns into new territory. En route to another destination, the pilots are given the option of landing at a rocky site called Kanwoo where a volcanic eruption is reportedly imminent. You aren’t supposed to wonder about the history of this site, its government, volcanologists, the ridiculousness of thrusting such a decision on a flight crew… Director Nikolay would rather that you gaped at the visuals. In the interest of fairness though, some of the visuals do inspire awe. A man jumps out of a burning bus, just as it explodes. A pilot scrambles into another flight mid-air, just as his original flight plummets. A plane flies off the runway, just as the runway explodes. At one point towards the end, after plenty of trauma has been inflicted on the main characters, as you wondered if it was all over, the ground staff reveal that the rescued flight is actually heading into a storm. The audience in the theatre burst out laughing. When there’s as much of it, tragedy becomes comedy.
If The Crew were a more serious film, I’d be tempted to point out that the female lead, Sandra, gets treated as a burden, despite being promoted as an experienced pilot. Only the men are strong enough to save the day. In one scene, Alex even tells her, “You’re not a pilot. You’re just a woman behind the wheel.” I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but The Crew isn’t a serious film worth sweating over. And in any case, the director punishes him with enough trauma to last a lifetime.
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