Film Movement // 2009 // 103 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // April 22nd, 2010
The truth is negotiable.
Though it comes with the standard disclaimer that tells us this is a work of fiction, the story told in the German-Dutch-Danish co-production Storm feels convincingly real. A superb ripped-from-the-headlines courtroom drama, it makes an abstract news item feel intimate. Similarly, the portrayal of the international justice system cast with heroes and villains makes for a gripping political thriller.
Hannah Maynard (Kerry Fox, Bright Star) is a lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. The case against a former Serbian general is already prepared when she is called in to lead the prosecution. General Goran Duric (Drazen Kuhn), accused of ordering the deportation and murder of civilians, has been awaiting trial for three years since his arrest in Spain. The case appears to be straightforward until holes are discovered in the testimony of a key witness who later commits suicide. Hannah has one week to salvage their case before the trial resumes and that leads her to investigate the witness and his sister. Mira Arendt (Anamaria Marinca, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) is reluctantly drawn into the situation despite her best efforts to distance herself from the horrors of the war. Hannah believes Mira has important information to share. Her suspicion is reinforced when politicians advise her to look elsewhere and mysterious men make open threats against the women's safety.
What happens after that conflict in a distant land has ended? What takes place there once images of war-torn cities no longer appear on our local news broadcasts? Will those who lived through the conflict pursue brighter futures or are they prisoners to the past? Storm stirs up these questions and provokes many more in its look at the aftermath of the wars in the former Yugoslavia. Certainly, the case against a fictional former general bears enough resemblance to some of the real cases that have been heard by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
Kerry Fox is exceptional as the lead prosecutor Hannah Maynard. It is a strong performance that reminds me of Helen Mirren's work in the Prime Suspect series. If Hannah Maynard was the lead character in a European-style Law and Order drama, I'd be hooked instantly. Hannah is an experienced professional who can roll with the punches in the courtroom but she is entirely human in the back room where her anger and frustration can be aired. Best of all, she's a courageous woman who won't back down to politicians with special interests and she remains calm and dignified even in the most dangerous situations.
Anamaria Marinca puts in a strong performance as Mira, a civilian survivor of the conflict who has started a new life in Germany. Once Hannah enters her life, Mira becomes the victim of routine intimidation to dissuade her from cooperating. Mira's struggle between her need for justice and her concern for her family's safety is believable. Her bravery makes the character memorable.
Hannah's adversaries come in different shades of shady. The defense council is the obvious enemy but, to be fair, they're expected to pull every trick in the book to serve their client. Rather, there are numerous characters on the fringes of the action that represent the real obstacles to Hannah's search for the truth. These are bureaucrats that want her to speed up the proceedings with or without strong evidence, politicians who would steer her clear of their territory and local civilians who don't want an outsider poking her nose into their business.
We get a glimpse of the huge bureaucracy that is the United Nations through Hannah's dealings with people of various departments. There is no shortage of people giving direction or cautioning Hannah while she's trying to do her job right. It seems this court is less interested in due diligence than it is in efficiency. Jesper Christensen (Quantum of Solace) makes a cameo appearance as the president of the tribunal, telling Hannah that she had better wrap things up in a hurry.
Storm is a quiet movie in the sense that it's mostly dialogue driven without big musical flourishes (I don't remember any music, actually) or elaborate sound design. Director Hans-Christian Schmid wisely avoids any contrived action moments like sudden gunfights or car chases. Yet, it is an engrossing and exciting movie that captured my complete attention early on. From Hannah's investigation to the formal procedures of the courtroom, the story is riveting. The powerhouse climax left me shaking in my seat.
So, maybe my knowledge of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia isn't greatly enhanced by this movie. Still, the history of that region is made more palpable by this fictional story than any countless number of forgotten news flashes. Storm makes the tragic history of that region, complete with its ethnic hatred and twisted politics, seem real and immediate again. It will conjure feelings of frustration and anger but it also reminds us that truth and justice are worth pursuing.
The technical quality of this DVD is average. Its shortcomings won't ruin the viewing experience but they might be distracting for some viewers. The picture is very grainy and the color palette deliberately skews toward cooler-than-neutral tones. Overcast skies illuminate exteriors to create a cold, almost clinical feeling. The picture sharpness is a bit harsh. Edges can look somewhat unnatural and edge enhancement haloes are occasionally visible. The stereo audio works fine most of the time though I noticed one instance of audio drop out. English dialogue by the main actors is discernable. Some of the supporting players, with heavier accents, can be understood without too much extra effort. Optional English subtitles translate the non-English dialogue only but viewers with close caption decoders will be able to read all of the speaking parts...
This Film Movement DVD release comes with the 14-minute short film Toyland which won the Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film in 2008. It tells the story of a German woman, in 1942, desperately looking for her son after he disappears. To shield him from the reality of the day, Marianne told her son that their Jewish neighbors were going on a trip to "Toyland." It's a deceptively simple film with impressive production value and a worthy payoff. The video presentation, however, leaves something to be desired. The image is presented in a non-anamorphic, letterboxed widescreen format. The picture is dark and colors are indistinct. It's kind of like watching a movie through a dirty window. Perhaps the period setting and flashback narrative construction called for a stylized look, but the picture seems a touch uglier than necessary.
The technical performance of Storm doesn't quite measure up to the human performances on screen. Nevertheless, strong acting and compelling storytelling earn the movie a big recommendation. It's the sort of taut courtroom drama that isn't easy to forget.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Movement
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film
* IMDb: Storm
* IMDb: Toyland