Review: BLACK ROSE Flourishes With Murder Mystery Thrills And Stateside Filmic Appeal

The last several years have been tremendous brain food for me in learning about various filmmakers from around the world and even getting acquainted with some of them in the process. They've all been delightful surprises in some degree or another, much like multifaceted Russian bodybuilding exponent, actor and producer Alexander Nevsky who has kept himself weighing in frequently as the latest in action stardom in his own making for close to two decades.

His latest brings us to his directorial inaugration, Black Rose, for a familiar, albeit doable murder mystery narrative that largely functions as you would hope. The film doesn't waste time identifying itself as you are instantly immersed into a world where a presumably Russian serial killer is on the loose in Hollywood, stalking women, torturing and murdering them, and then leaving cryptic notes and black roses with their corpses. Lead detective Matt (Adrian Paul) is running cold with no progress for his investigation, leaving Captain Frank (Robert Davi) no choice but to summon one of Russia's best, police Major Vladmir (Alexander Nevsky) to aid the LAPD's efforts in communicating with some of the Russian locals in order to help bring the killer to justice. The plot thickens when the killer targets Vladmir's newly assigned partner, Emily (Kristanna Loken), a resilient rookie police profiler, entangling them both in the killer's web of intrigue and danger as the bodycount grows with each passing moment.

There's good footing in Nevsky's storytelling with much credit here to Brent Huff and George Saunders for their script. Nevsky's entrance brings the kind of 80's and 90's action star flair folks in their 30's and over would appreciate given his persona, and while his acting initially comes off a bit wooden at times, he does makes up for it with a bit more charm and grace for the rest of the runtime. One can also ascribe this to Loken's introduction about half-hour in, cueing some rather amazing chemistry between both our lead actor and actress, and particularly with respect to Loken who provides one of the film's strongest performances.

Seasoned thesp Davi brings conviction to the supporting role of the aforementioned police Captain next to that of actor Paul's role of subordinate detective Matt whose cooperation with the case leaves a lot to be desired. Action aficionados will take a liking to the appearance of actor Matthias Hues who steals the film's first biggest sequence during a violent bank heist, testing our hero's mettle in a hail of bullets to bookend Vladmir's cool and reserved demeanor. Action sequences are kept minimal, albeit signature and coordinated accordingly in entertaining fashion.

For most of the film you're given a decent handling of the murder mystery whodunit formula with notably compelling performances from most of our cast; Even co-star Oksana Sidorenko had me guessing to some degree as Sandra, a bartender at the nightclub that becomes the epicenter of our killer's psychological and bloody stranglehold.

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Arguably, there's no question that Nevsky has grown in notoriety at home, and there may be even some folks beyond Russia who know of Nevsky's body of work moreso than others. Conveniently our own James Couche was already on familiar territory with Nevsky's films before screening Black Rose for his own review wherein he describes it as a crime thriller in the vein of Walter Hill's 1988 action thriller, Red Heat, as well as a bold move for a first time director relatively known for action thrillers. He isn't wrong, and after my own viewing, I can fairly assert the same, in addition to Nevsky's execution in doing away with some of the Cold War stereotypes often evoked in writing Russian characters in Hollywood. It's something he humbly acknowledged in our interview at the top of last year and so in similarity with many Asian Americans and the ire they take with Whitewashing (not to be confused with the industry in Asia where consumers are less concerned since Asians are continually represented in media all the time), I can understand how some critics in the U.S. might feel a little stymied.

Nevsky's got plenty to offer in my book when it comes to his potential in film. I'm not as familiar as others may be, but looking past of the film's minor bumps, he's earned my interest. He manages to spearhead an ample story founded on an archaic performance that illustrates the action hero image he is known for with a slightly more cerebral approach that gives him a bit more room for affability, which is something I believe most action fans and cinephiles in general can appreciate.

ITN is releasing Black Rose in select theaters and on VoD on April 28.

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  1. Have you seen Showdown in Manila?

    1. It hasn't officially released yet here in the U.S. so unfortunately not yet.


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