Vice is a flashy, hip drug-obsessed film that fails to pack an emotional punch.

Young Denis (Maksim Matveev) is the local DJ, struggling to survive doing what he loves – making music for people.Vice (Tiski, Тиски) Thanks to some less than responsible buddies of his, he gets mixed up with drug lord Verner (Fyodor Bondarchuk), and is forced to become a dealer to pay for his freedom. The film is presented by the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency of the Russian Federation, so it’s clear that we’re not in for a wacky, drug-induced journey, but rather a narrative that explores the insidious nature of trafficking, which is never going to be a fun ride. To make matters worse, Krot (Anton Shagin) is a cop on the edge who has it in for Verner, thus wants Denis to maintain his position in order to make a career-defining bust.

The relationship between Denis and Verner is less than straightforward. At first Verner is simply a bully, threatening him and his girlfriend Masha (Ekaterina Vilkova), but after a time it seems that he views his employee/slave as a close friend, even going so far as to try and hook him up with his sister, Taya (Yevgeniya Khirivskaya). Denis’ relationship with his girlfriend is obviously strained by all this extra-curricular activity, and Vice is one of those films that make you want to yell at the screen – if he came clean with her, then everything would be alright. The film is flawed from the outset because Denis isn’t a sympathetic character – he’s distant from the very beginning. Matveev is a strong performer, sure, but the screenplay is generally very cold.

This isn’t helped by the stylised cinematography. It may be pretty, featuring a narrow spectrum of cool blues and greens, but it only serves to highlight how unlikeable these people are. It’s easy to appreciate Denis’ predicament, as the intimidating Verner behaves unpredictably – he’ll tell you you’re the best of buds one moment, then remind how he could end you and your loved ones the next.

Vice is a very stylish film, but for all the snappy editing and slick cinematography, it left me cold.

Rating: 2.5 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 25th October 2008
Hoopla Factor: 1.5 stars

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