The St. Petersburg Times
Manuel Muhm

Despite an abundance of material that could create wonderful film scripts, the new generation of Russian movie directors seem to be happy with re-writing and adapting familiar plots. Why struggle with developing new and complex storylines if the audience is happy with simple-to-follow "good-guys, bad-guys" narratives? And if you then set the film in Russia at the beginning of the 21st-century among Moscow's upper class, there is actually little that can go wrong.

"I love blockbusters," movie director Yegor Konchalovsky said after the premier of his latest film Pobeg (Escape) last week. "And I would even name my child "Blockbuster"," he jokingly remarked. The director, who became popular with his films Antikiller (2000) and Antikiller 2 (2003), seems to have judged the taste of the audience again with Pobeg, although this time he limited the number of violent scenes and instead tried to concentrate more on characters.

"It is the story of a physician who is not a particularly nice person at the beginning," said Konchalovsky. "He is self-centered and egotistical, pursuing first of all his own interests. But when he loses his wife, Irina, and his job, he is forced to reconsider his life. It is also an escape from himself."

The film's hero is Yevgeny Vetrov (played by Yevgeny Mironov), who works as a physician at a private Moscow clinic. From the moment he finds the corpse of his beloved wife in their apartment, a chase begins. Despite being innocent of his wife's murder, Yevgeny is tried, convicted, and sentenced. On the train ride that takes him to the Siberian camp where he will spend the rest of his days, he is accompanied by three other prisoners. When they stage an escape attempt, the three prisoners as well as the soldiers guarding the train are killed in the battle. Yevgeny, the only survivor, is free and uses the chance to flee across the Siberian taiga, with two pursuers always close on his heels. One is a detective, obsessed with catching the fugitive alive, while the other is his opponent who wants to destroy Yevgeny for good. The story ends where it began – in Moscow – and there the hero is finally reconciled with his past and starts a new life.

The story may sound familiar to fans of The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford, and Konchalovsky also seems to have been inspired by the 1993 blockbuster. But despite the obvious parallels, the movie director denied any similarities with Ford's thriller. "The only similarity lies in the fact that both heroes work as physicians," he said. "Pobeg is definitely not a remake of The Fugitive." Well, for fans of light-hearted, action-loaded entertaining movies, the question of whether the film is a remake or not will certainly not be of any significance – especially when you consider that The Fugitive itself is loosely based on a 1960s television series where the hero, Dr. Richard Kimble, was on the run week after week (itself based on a true story of a wrongly convicted Chicago surgeon). Forty-five years after the TV series, the hero is spared a weekly marathon and the chase is reduced to a mere two hours. The title Pobeg hints to the viewer that there will be a number of scenes that keep them on the edge of their seats. Now and then, the hero is given a few minutes to relax and reconsider the mistakes of his past, but then the chase starts anew. Nobody would accuse Pobeg of having a masterful insight into human nature, yet there are some moments when the film allows us to get closer to the characters' souls, despite the fact that the characters are developed only well enough to keep the audience interested in the chase.

Konchalovsky's foolproof recipe for success also seems to involve setting his film in the world of the rich and beautiful. All the characters (even one of the clinic's nurses) seem to belong to Moscow's elite and indulge in the comforts of a decadent lifestyle: big cars, stunning apartments, robot dogs – even in Siberia, the cab drivers sit behind the wheels of black BMWs. Maybe these details are little reminders that, after all, we are dealing with a film, and the most important task of the Russian movie industry seems to be entertaining people.

Pobeg cannot boast a novel idea, but it certainly gets top marks as entertainment.