Thursday, October 01, 2020

The Rising Hawk: Ukrainian Historical Action, with Robert Patrick

Back in the 13th Century, a hearty community of Ukrainians faced an invasion from the east. In this case, it was a Mongol army rather than the ununiformed troops of Putin’s moribund Russian regime, but the implications were pretty much the same for the invaded. However, the rough-hewn highlanders faced adversity before, so they are not afraid to fight for what’s theirs in John Wynn & co-director Akhtem Seitablaev’s The Rising Hawk, an English-language, Ukrainian-American co-production, which releases tomorrow on-demand.

Zakhar and Rada’s older son Ivan is the brawny one, but his younger brother Maksim is the really tough one. Zakhar understands how that works. He looks like an old farmer, but when outside forces threaten their peaceful valley, he will be the one to rally their defenses. In contrast, Tugar, the warlord who appointed himself “Boyar” of the region, will cave and capitulate when confronting Burunda Khan’s army. That is endlessly embarrassing for his crack archer daughter Myroslava, who is unambiguously encouraging Maksim’s romantic advances.

Things really come to a head when Maksim kills the Khan’s son while rescuing women abducted from the valley. Zakhar’s community will have to stand alone, along with two notable allies: Myroslava and Bohun, an unstable warrior Maksim also freed from the Mongols, who holds a deeply personal grudge against his former captors.

The first forty minutes or so are a bit slow, but
Hawk gets pretty cool when the fighting starts for real. The hack-and-slash action is often brutally realistic, but also impressively cinematic. Wynn and Uzbek filmmaker Seitablaev give the film epic scope, capitalizing on the mountain vistas (the Carpathians, they’re not just for Dracula movies anymore), while keeping the action gritty and viscerally personal.

Both Alex MacNicoll and Rocky Myers are a bit bland in dramatic scenes, but they are totally credible swinging broad swords and axes. Poppy Drayton plays Myroslava with an appealing no-nonsense demeanor, even though her chemistry just okay with MacNicoll. However, Robert Patrick rock-solidly anchors the film as steely Zakhar, while Tommy (not the jazz musician) Flanagan is surprisingly compelling portraying Tugar’s descent into cowardly self-loathing. As a bonus, Alison Doody (from
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) still looks too young to be Maksim’s mom, but she invests maternal warmth in her supporting turn.

If you can see potential in the prospect of Patrick starring in a bloody historical, you are likely to find Wynn and Seiteblaev fulfill it in full. The action and the freedom-fighting defiance are the things to see here and they are impressive. Recommended for fans of sword-wielding underdog movies,
The Rising Hawk releases on VOD platforms tomorrow (10/1).