Picking a movie because it was the most expensive Russian film ever made may not be the best way to go. While the Admiral is full of epic battles, the mixing of the love story which seemed wooden and more foreordained than an element of discovery made the movie an epic cliché.
The Admiral is about Admiral Alexander Kolchak who was a Russian Admiral during World War I and after the revolution the supreme leader of the White army. Kolchak is a brave man and an expert naval officer whose prowess leads him to command the Baltic Fleet in the last days of World War I. He is a tough religious man who doesn’t hesitate to put himself in harm’s way. He is also a ladies man and the movie also follows his love affair with the wife of one of his junior officers. The mercurial romance is interspersed throughout the battle scenes and in time they can’t live without each other and she follows him to his eventual execution in 1920.
While the combat scenes were put together well and the opening naval battle is impressive, the film is more concerned with the epic than the characters. It seemed as if the film makers had a series of known historical moments they needed to show but didn’t understand how to create characters to make those moments flow together. History didn’t move the characters against a back drop of action; instead, history moved action against a backdrop of characters. If there were less battles and more scenes between the characters, the story might have held together better. Considering how much time the film makers spent following a Cossack army that was going to save the Admiral, it is obvious that the epic was more important. It is even more obvious when they had his lover read letters out loud while showing combat scenes, making a perverse and clichéd mix of love and war.
Looking at the film as a product of Russia and not just an epic, it becomes obvious that there is a certain amount of hagiography at work in the film. Kolchak is a fervent nationalist and a man who believes in a strong hand on government. When offered the command of navy from Kerensky he says only if he can have strict discipline. In combat he fearlessly leads his men putting himself where he could be killed and leading them in prayer before each battle. He is the perfect mix of the ideal non Soviet Russian: brave, religious, and strict. What is even more interesting is what is missing from the movie: his insistence on exterminating rebellious groups; his execution of 25,000 Russians who rebelled against him; his inability to keep his allies, the Checs and the Poles on his side. Instead of a complicated picture of yet another Russian dictator, the film makers have created a hero of the lost cause. In Putin’s Russia, perhaps this is the model of the new Russian hero.
While the Admiral is steeped in clichés, it is certainly put together well and is an interesting look into what Russia thinks of its past.