The World War II presentation "Attack on Leningrad" takes a harrowing real life subject and should have been a powerful and unforgettable movie experience. Wanting to be a historical epic, a sweeping romance, and a heart-rending tragedy--the film, ultimately, falls short on all fronts. It's a real shame, too. Setting a personal story amidst the siege on Leningrad, where German troops isolated the city for nearly 900 days as its inhabitants starved to death, seems like a can't miss proposition to tell a devastating and important tale of survival and perseverance. But this Russian production fails to shed much light as either a personal story or as a tribute to a great city (which is certainly what director Alexander Buravsky must have intended). Populating the cast with international actors including Mira Sorvino, Gabriel Byrne, and Armin Mueller-Stahl further upped my expectations for a truly memorable experience. Sadly, though, the movie flounders at its most basic element--the screenplay.
Sorvino plays an English journalist covering the war in the Soviet Union. On a routine excursion, her unit is attacked and she is presumed dead. When she is subsequently found by a female member of the Leningrad militia, her death has already been reported and the superior officers don't want to contradict their statements. Taking up residence with the soldier, the two women form a grudging friendship and Sorvino (now under an assumed identity) connects with various neighbors where conveniently language differences do not hamper communication efforts. Of course, two plucky Russian children are in the mix (one is even disabled) to maximize emotional impact. Living conditions continue to deteriorate and circumstances become dire as everyone dreams of escape. Everything is drawn in rather broad strokes. For example, Germans are portrayed as cackling evil doers or as patriots completely opposed to their country's barbarism with no middle ground. And in one of the most preposterous subplots ever, corrupt Russian officials actively work to ensure no one finds out Sorvino is alive. Seems like they would have bigger fish to fry in this three year siege that killed 1.5 million citizens.
What is most disappointing is that the true story of Leningrad should have made a potent drama. But filtered through Sorvino's story--nothing rings true. Attempting a romantic angle, we're also supposed to believe that Gabriel Byrne is Sorvino's true passion and soul mate (although the two have no chemistry or connection and the screenplay doesn't do much to support this notion). With the mix of languages in the film, all of the dialogue sounds forced and artificial. No one speaks in a natural cadence or in a believable way and I must presume this had largely to do with English to German to Russian translations. In many ways, the film looks great--but there is little realness in this well-meaning film. I wanted to love "Attack on Leningrad." Truly, I did. The subject matter deserves a thought-provoking treatment that really delves into the epic tragedy. But this isn't that film, no matter how much I wish it was. An interesting misfire. Only about 2 1/2 stars which I'll round up for good intentions. KGHarris, 10/11.