Murder and intrigue come home to mother Russia in Michael Apted’s tense 1983 thriller Gorky Park. Starring William Hurt, Lee Marvin, Brian Dennehy, and Joanna Pacula, the film is a tightly wound whoduit with smart twists and turns to keep you guessing. Kino Lorber Studio Classics resurrects this murder mystery for a second go at Blu-ray featuring a solid transfer and audio, but still a rather anemic assortment of extras. Recommended - especially if you don't already own it.
Like many movies that fail at the box office, they can get lost in the shuffle of new releases and bigger hits and hope to survive on home video. Maybe it was the silly-sounding name, maybe it was the geo-political climate of 1983, but for some reason, a classy whodunit murder mystery like Michael Apted’s Gorky Park failed to catch fire at the North American box office. Based on the novel by Martin Cruz Smith and adapted by Dennis Potter, the film is a tight murder mystery with great performances by the main cast that doesn’t shortchange an audience with an attention span.
Three bodies with their faces and fingertips skinned off like an animal have been found frozen in Moscow’s Gorky Park. The two men were both shot in the head, and a woman was shot in the chest. Police Militia Detective Arkady Renko (William Hurt) is determined to solve this confounding mystery. With fractions of clues to work with, Renko begins to pick away at a web of deception and intrigue that points to the KGB, a cagey American businessman (Lee Marvin), and a film wardrobe assistant (Joana Pacula). His only ally is a Russian-speaking New York detective (Brian Dennehy) who believes one of the faceless men is his missing brother who was smuggling people out of communist-held territory. With the conspirators on one side and the secret police on the other, Renko must move quickly to expose the crime and save his life.
Gorky Park isn’t a film I’ve watched all that often, I’ve never owned it, but every time I catch it, it has my complete attention. Michael Apted deftly manages this twisty thriller offering up the right number of clues and pieces to the puzzle with just enough red herrings to keep you from seeing the full picture. William Hurt plays the smart Poirot-style detective to his advantage. He’s quiet but you can see his mind working when he latches onto small seemingly insignificant details. Joanna Pacula perfectly embodies the woman of mystery; beautiful and alluring and seemingly innocent, but can she be trusted? Dennehy turns in a standout performance of his own as Detective Kirwill tapping into his natural gruff stature. Lee Marvin is particularly great in this late-career role as Osborne who effortlessly exudes that calming charm you know deep down you shouldn’t trust.
I also liked that this movie takes place in 1980s communist Russia without it being a jingoistic “us versus them” mouthpiece. While it doesn’t dwell on “how much it must suck to be a Russian,” it doesn’t hide from it either. With any good mystery, you should be paying attention to the background as much as what’s immediately in focus. Pay attention and you'll see bread lines, people with ratty clothes, and oppressively bleak-looking housing complexes that long ago needed fresh coats of paint, as well as a few clues that point you to the killer or killers' identity.
The one issue I have with Gorky Park and it’s true for many films in foreign lands is everyone speaks English. The spoken language of the film is fine, I’m okay with the fact that everyone has this faux-Euro accent to designate they’re from “somewhere else” to American audiences. I just don’t like that this film fails to establish that everyone is actually speaking Russian. I would have loved for the film to utilize what The Hunt For Red October so smartly did where they start out speaking Russian with subtitles, but then a clever camera move allows for a deft switch to English so you’re not just reading subtitles the whole film. It’s late in the film when you learn that Dennehy’s Kirwill fluently knows how to speak Russian explaining how a guy like that could even remotely blend into the citizenry of Moscow. It’s a nitpick really, but it’s the one I’ve got. Otherwise, I think this is a great flick. Not flawless by any means, but a damn good one that never fails to entertain.
For another less favorable take on the film, check out our 2014 Gorky Park Blu-ray Review
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Kino Lorber Studio Classics takes another trip to Gorky Park on Blu-ray. A single-disc release, the film is now pressed on a Region-A BD-50 disc and housed in a standard case with a slipcover. The disc loads to a static image main menu with standard navigation options.
As Kino Lorber Studio Classics has renewed its distribution deals with various studios, we’re seeing more and more of their early titles earning new Blu-ray releases with modest (if any) visual improvement beyond additional bonus features. I imagine Gorky Park is akin to their re-release of Twice Told Tales where the transfer source is likely the same, but with a bigger disc to work with and better encoding, the image picks up some slight visual enhancement. I wish I could elaborate on that in this case, but I never bought the 2014 disc and don’t have one immediately available for direct comparison.
In this instance, I am quite happy with this disc. A fresh new 4K scan and HDR might aid some of the extreme blacks and snowy whites, but overall this disc handles the load amiably. Fine lines and textures are strong throughout. Facial features, fur hats, and impressive production design offer plenty of details to observe. Film grain may be a bit more prominent than what some folks may want to see, but it’s naturally cinematic appearing without any signs of scrubbing or DNR. Black levels are generally good with an inky appeal and strong shadows, but some slight crush creeps in during a few spots. A segment in Renko’s apartment can appear more brownish than true black, but that could also be the bleak production design creeping in. Whites are crispy without serious or intrusive blooming. Some slight speckling appears but nothing distracting.
Gorky Park arrives with a solid DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix. Most of the film is very dialog heavy with only intermittent runs for action. It’s a talking film more than it is a gunfight flick. To that end, the dialog and the number of questionably accurate accents come through perfectly without issue. Sound effects are active and engaging enough for the big important sequences and there’s enough definition to evoke a sense of space. James Horner’s score is excellent as ever, but it’s very much in his early 80s vein so you’re going to hear a lot of themes and motifs similar to what he did for Star Trek II, Commando, 48 Hrs., and The Name of the Rose. Not bad or anything but amusing if you’re at all familiar with his work.
On the bonus features front, we have the rare occurrence where a KLSC reissue doesn’t pick up a new commentary - which is a damned shame. As one particular fan of this film, I’d love to hear more about the production than what can be found on IMDB’s silly trivia section. The Michael Apted interview is a nice holdover from the past disc, so that’ll have to be good enough for now. After that, we get the standard assortment of semi-related trailers from KLSC.
Gorky Park may not be everyone’s flavor of thrillers or murder mysteries, but I greatly enjoy this film. After the original Blu-ray hung out in my ongoing list of Amazon Christmas Wish List, I’m glad to finally have it. Michael Apted offers up a clever detective whodunit with William Hurt delivering in an early film role with a terrific supporting cast and a particularly great turn from Lee Marvin in his twilight years. I enjoyed that this film takes place in Russia without distinctly being Russian. It could be adapted anywhere but the background details of how people live and how a case like this unfolds gives a familiar story a unique flavor. KLSC lets Gorky Park have another run on Blu-ray with good results. The image may not be perfect, but it’s still a great-looking disc with solid audio to match. I wish bonus features could have been more plentiful, but the Apted interview is well worth a watch. If you’re a murder mystery fan or need a good thriller to get the blood pumping - Recommended