Wednesday, September 26, 2007



Gulag (an acronym for Glavnoye Upravleniye Ispravitelno-trudovykh Lagerey i kolonii) was the government body responsible for administering prison camps across the former Soviet Union. These camps are primarily known as a place for detaining political prisoners and as a mechanism for repressing political opposition to the state. But they also housed criminals of all types. During Stalin’s dictatorship a new system arose, the vory v zakone which is roughly translated as the "thieves in law". The members adopted a code of "complete submission to the laws of criminal life, including obligations to support the criminal ideal, and rejection of labour and political activities."

In order to be accepted prospective members must demonstrate considerable leadership skills, personal ability, intellect and charisma. Once accepted they are given the title vory and must live according to the code. The penalty for violation of this code is mutilation or death. Acceptance into the group was often marked by extensive tattooing. The tattooing would often be indicative of rank within the society and/or noteworthy criminal accomplishments.

Under the code of the vory, each member must...
 Never, under any circumstances, work or live only on means gleaned from thievery.
 Keep secret information about the whereabouts of accomplices (i.e. dens, districts, hideouts, safe apartments, etc.).
 In unavoidable situations (if a thief is under investigation) to take the blame for someone else's crime; this buys the other person time of freedom.
 Have good command of the thieves' jargon ("Fenya").
 Not gamble without being able to cover losses.
 Teach the trade to young beginners.
 Not lose your reasoning ability when using alcohol.
 Have nothing to do with the authorities, not participate in public activities, nor join any community organisations.
 Not take weapons from the hands of authorities; not serve in the military.
 Make good on promises given to other thieves.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 the vory assumed a leading role within the Russian criminal hierarchy, the so-called Russian Mob (aka the Russian Mafia) and has now extended itself beyond the frontier of the country.

Naomi Watts: Anna Khitrova, a midwife in a London hospital
Jerzy Skolimowski: her uncle Stepan
Armin Mueller-Stahl: Semyon, owner of the Trans-Siberian restaurant
Vincent Cassel: his son Kirill
Viggo Mortensen: Semyon’s driver and bodyguard Nikolai

Being a thriller not too much can be said about it without giving away the whole thing. With great acting throughout and a good story line coupled with crisp editing it makes for a fine movie. Adequate time has been given so the characters can reveal themselves in bits and pieces as to who they really are. Yet it is only 1½ hours long. On that basis it’s probably a 4 star movie.

However the violence is just a little too much. The first instance occurs within 5 minutes of the opening credits which more or less sets the tone of what is to come. Anyone who flinches at the sight of blood had better think twice about going to see this movie. The violence culminates with a fight in a Turkish bath which so shocked some people in the audience you could hear audible gasps from the more squeamish (me included).

for strong, brutal and bloody violence (and they ain’t kiddin’), some graphic sexuality, language and nudity (mostly male).

When Nikolai pays for “services rendered” he lays a card on top of the money and then we see him make some remark. When the camera returns to her we see she has not moved but the card has and is now no longer on top of the cash.

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