Monday, April 5, 2010

To be released tomorrow on DVD; "Storm:

Grade: B

Storm, Hans-Christian Schmid’s dry, concise thriller, examines the politics surrounding the prosecution of a former Bosnian Serb Army commander for war crimes. Its DVD release seems inspired by the recent trial in The Hague of the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. In the movie his apparent fictional stand-in, Goran Duric (Drazen Kühn), is charged with supervising the “ethnic cleansing” of Bosnian Muslim civilians.

What seems to be an open-and-shut case against him suddenly falls apart with the suicide of the prosecution’s chief witness, Alen Hajdarevic (Kresimir Mikic), a gaunt, wild-eyed Muslim, who hangs himself after it is discovered that he lied to the court about witnessing events at which he wasn’t present. His death is a bitter blow to Hannah Maynard (Kerry Fox), an intrepid prosecutor who has just been handed the case by her cynical, hard-nosed boss, Keith Haywood (Stephen Dillane).

Determined that she not be made a scapegoat for others’ failures and that the case remain open, Hannah is given one week to travel to Bosnia to find new evidence against Duric. At Hajdarevic’s funeral in Sarajevo, she meets his sister, Mira Arendt (Anamaria Marinca, the Romanian actress from 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), who has returned briefly from Berlin, where she lives with a husband and young son.

Hannah extracts information from Mira about a hotel that was a Bosnian Serb Army headquarters where atrocities were committed. Mira warily confesses that she was held prisoner there with other women and repeatedly raped. Hannah persuades Mira to travel to The Hague and testify against Duric, although because of time restrictions she can offer no assurances that Mira’s testimony will be admitted.

Storm begins with a prologue set three years earlier, in 2005, that shows Duric’s arrest while on vacation with his wife and two daughters. The movie is unambiguous about his presumed guilt. In the courtroom he is a bulky, glowering presence who casts a cold, imperious eye on the proceedings.

For a political thriller, Storm is remarkably restrained. There are no flashbacks to the wars in the Balkans or to the atrocities in the hotel, which Hannah visits seeking information. While there she is surreptitiously photographed and menaced by Serbian nationalists, one of whom throws a rock through her car window.

Mira, just before leaving for the Netherlands, is thrown violently against a wall by a Serbian thug and warned not to cooperate with “those pigs in The Hague.” Marinca plays her as a worried but brave woman buffeted by outside forces as she prepares to unleash a flood of traumatic memories. Once she arrives in The Hague word is leaked to a newspaper of her presence, and there are several tense moments that could explode into car chases and kidnappings but don’t. The movie’s central moral quandary is Hannah’s internal conflict between her desire for justice and her need to keep her job and play by the rules.

Filmed in a rigorous semidocumentary style, Storm has so much history to impart in its relatively brief running time (105 minutes) that much of its dialogue (by Schmid and Bernd Lange) is expository. But it is very well acted, especially by Marinca and Fox.

As Mira faces the possibility that she won’t be allowed to testify about her ordeal, she blurts out a question about the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia that lies at the heart of the movie: “What kind of court is this? What the hell is it actually for?” The frustrating answer, which Hannah must swallow hard to accept: Partial justice is better than none.

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