Producers: John Wynn, Jeff Rice and Raja Collins Directors: John Wynn and Akhtem Seitablaev Screenplay: Rich Ronat and Yaroslav Voytseshek Cast: Robert Patrick, Tommy Flanagan, Poppy Drayton. Alex MacNicoll, Alison Doody, Tsegmid Tserenbold, Rocky Myers, Oliver Trevena, Andriy Isayenko, Oleh Voloschenko and Alina Kovalenko Distributor: Shout! Studios
“The Rising Hawk” is essentially he-man hokum that will make medievalists either giggle with gleeful ridicule or harrumph with pedantic indignation (and draw either sniggers of derision or whoops of joy from hardened action-movie fans). But it’s actually an adaptation of a prized work of nationalist Ukrainian literature—the 1883 novel “Zakhar Berkut” by prolific writer Ivan Franko, which was previously the source of a 1971 filmization by Leonid Osyka.
At the present time the tale of courageous resistance against a formidable foe descending on a peaceful free citizenry from the east obviously has local resonance, but the treatment in this joint American-Ukrainian production (shot in English, apart from occasional un-subtitled bits, and co-directed by American John Wynn and Ukrainian Akhtem Seitablaev) is pretty juvenile (not that the novel, a historical romance in the mold of, say, Walter Scott, is all that mature).
The result is reminiscent of the sword-and-sandal stuff that the Italian film industry churned out in such profusion during the 1960s, but it’s been made on a much higher visual level than they were, with an international cast that treats the material respectfully while keeping tongues firmly in cheeks. Perhaps a better comparison would be to movies like “The Vikings” or “The 13th Warrior,” which were obviously ludicrous but could still be enjoyed for the shameless nonsense they were—guilty genre pleasures, as it were. “Hawk” fits nicely into that category.
The story is set in the thirteenth century, as a horde of Mongol warriors led by fearsome Barunda Khan (Tsegmid Tserenbold), a general in the old of Genghis Khan, is bearing down on villagers in the Carpathian mountains who settled there after fleeing earlier Mongol onslaughts to the north. One of the hamlets is headed by Zakhar Berkut (Robert Patrick), a wise leader with a supportive wife named Rada (Alison Doody) and two strapping sons, older Ivan (Rocky Myers) and younger, more reckless Maksim (Alex MacNicoll). Both are formidable hunters.
As the Mongol menace becomes more acute, Berkut seeks a defensive alliance with Tugar Volk (Tommy Flanagan), a bellicose boyar who considers himself suzerain over the entire region. Volk is contemptuous of the lesser Berkut, but after the irrepressible Maksim, who’s handy with an axe, bests one of Volk’s champions in combat, the boyar agrees to joint action.
That arrangement is disrupted, however, when Maksim meets Volk’s daughter Myroslava (Poppy Drayton). She’s not only beautiful but an expert archer, and after both have demonstrated their mettle in a hunt for a particularly dangerous bear, they are clearly drawn to one another. That draws Volk’s ire—in his eyes Maksim is a mere peasant unworthy of his offspring—and with a bit of pragmatism joined with his fatherly anger, he not only breaks his alliance with Berkut but becomes a vassal to Barunda Khan, who intends to crush all who have opposed him and killed his men.
That sets the stage for the rest of the film—the heroic resistance of the locals against the assault of the Mongols and their evil minion Volk. Maksim becomes the soul of the movement, with his father, mother and brother fading increasingly into the background as he takes charge, inspiring others like colorful colleagues Bohun (Oliver Trevena) and Petro (Andriy Isayenko) to similarly courageous acts.
At the same time, of course, his romance with Myroslava blossoms. She deplores her father’s treachery in joining forces with the Mongol leader, and has become an important member of the resistance.
Though he’s not top-billed, this is really MacNicoll’s movie, and he gives Maksim a dashing vibe. He (and, undoubtedly, his stunt doubles) engage in a parade of swordfights and skirmishes as the plot progresses, culminating in an obligatory one-on-one face-off against Barunda Khan. It’s staged on a rocky plateau that’s been turned into a virtual little island by one of Berkut’s stratagems—pulling down a towering pillar of stone to turn the valley through which the Mongols are approaching into a raging flood (Bohun and Petro play major roles here). It’s a ridiculous business, but pulled off with amusing panache despite the absurdity.
In contrast to MacNicoll, Patrick is all calm assurance as Berkut, while Drayton mostly scrunches up her face in concern throughout, though she or her doubles do get involved in the action scenes without mussing up Miroslava’s tiara. Elsewhere Flanagan makes a hissable villain and Tserenbold cuts a formidable figure as Barunda Khan, making up for the fact that his forces actually look rather small in number. Most of the supporting cast are fairly anonymous, though Travena and Isayenko have their moments.
Though bolstered by American financing and partially helmed by Wynn (whose only previous feature was 2013’s anemic comedy “Screwed”), “The Raging Hawk” is mainly Ukrainian work, and the technical team has done pretty well apart from some subpar effects. Many of the locations are beautiful, and cinematographer Iurii Korol has taken advantage of them, while Vladlen Odudenko’s production design might not be historically accurate but is certainly grubby enough. Editors Wynn and Viktor Onysko don’t always move things along as speedily as might have been advisable—the movie logs in at well over two hours—and Josh Atchley’s music score goes thunderously loud all too often, but that’s in line with the movie’s epic aspirations.
“The Rising Hawk” is hardly of David Lean quality, but if you’re willing to accept a hokey medieval adventure of the sort Hollywood used to turn out in the fifties, it might provide a fairly agreeable time.