Review: Wild East (Kur vedis cels)

Written and directed by Matīss Kaža, co-written by Ilze Akmentiņa, a runaway bride, a young peasant, mysterious illusionists and a manic investigator become entwined in a murderous affair at a Baltic German baron’s manor. Starring: Egons Dombrovskis, Agnese Cirule, Kaspars Znotins, Toms Velicko, Zanete Zvigule, Inese Kucinska-Lauksteine and Vilis Daudzins.

Wild East kicks things off on a strong note, it captures that classic western feel and has a vibrant, energetic colour palette. It quickly sets up a story of drama, revenge and family ties, with magicians thrown in for good measure. However, as it moves forward it becomes clear that its initial energy can’t be sustained throughout, resulting in more of a walk than a gallop. It still ticks a lot of boxes as a solid modern western but it’s missing that extra ingredient to make it more memorable. It feels as if it doesn’t commit to a tone, it’s a little bit wacky but not fully, it plays into the violence somewhat but it’s fairly infrequent, there isn’t a clear frontrunner to show what atmosphere it’s trying to create. It’s a similar issue with the score it starts off strong and fairly subtle but slowly becomes disconnected from the film and takes on a slightly modern note, struggling to push the story forward or amp up its energy.

The writing has a lot of great elements to it, there’s some more traditional and others that are new, using a typical overbearing, arrogant and sadistic detective but then mixing in the tricky illusionists. There’s plenty to hold your attention, it doesn’t move at a speedy pace but it also isn’t overtly slow. It has a comedic edge, some of it works better than others but it’s consistently entertaining throughout. It might have been a bonus to see them work the romantic angle a bit more to add an extra drive as the film heads towards its finale. There’s also the attempt at a typical cat and mouse, police versus fugitive, edge to the story but it doesn’t quite get there, it adds a little bit of suspense but not really enough to flesh it out.

It’s undoubtedly an ensemble film, there’s no one lead that takes all the attention, it’s split evenly across the cast and they all have something to add. Zvigule’s Eva is a very capable young woman, she quickly adapts to the changing situation, Dombrovskis’s Imre is classically stoic, Znotins’s Oto is mysterious and intelligent. Cīrule’s Amanda is an interesting addition, quick witted, a survivor and knowing of the powers she can have over men, she’s extremely committed and resilient. Perhaps the only outlier is Vilis Daudzins’s Orlovskis, he lays it on a little thick and it feels like the type of humour it’s going for doesn’t fit in with the rest of the film. It’s a very cliched role and it would have been interesting to see it take more of a clever tact, rather than brutish.

Wild East is an entertaining modern western, it tries to have fun with its action and adventure, using classic elements and adding a new twist. The cast is a great ensemble who provide a huge variety of characters, each with their own quirks. It’s playful and throws in some violence but it’s missing one clear driving force of what it’s trying to be, it tests out different waters but never dives in. Other than the fact that it moves a little slower than desired, that’s really the only thing holding it back from being one of the better Westerns to be made in recent years, it just needed one aspect to set it apart from the crowd.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½

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