Despite the break-up of the USSR, cold war-style espionage dramas about the cruel Soviet Union continue to surface. Benefitting from authentic locations, but needlessly over-extended, THE ICE RUNNER is a fairly compelling human rights drama; it crosses THE FUGITIVE with A DAY IN THE LIFE
OF IVAN DENISOVICH.
A career spy, American Jeremy West (Edward Albert) loses his opportunity to come in from the cold when he trusts his own government. When Russia cries for justice in a spy scandal, the CIA tricks West into confessing his complicity while denying all involvement. West is given a 12-year stretch
in a penitentiary whose harsh conditions ensure that few prisoners last the duration. Providentially, West's prison train wrecks, and he switches identities with fellow prisoner Popovsky, who was headed for a relatively benign prison farm.
Befriended at the jail camp by bunkmate Petrov (Alexander Kuznitov) and bullied by a bruiser named Gorsky (Sergei Ruban), West pulls off his deception, but is harassed by the Warden Kolya (Eugene Lazarev) who's determined to prove West is an impostor. While the nearby town's resident guru,
Fyodor (Victor Wong), counsels West about prison breaks, the Warden sends for Popovsky's wife Lena (Olga Kabo) who decides to play along with West's deception and then falls in love with him. Before the American agent can escape, the Communist government falls; the Warden becomes a dinosaur of a
dying penal system. Angrily he requests that West be sent with him to his new post, which is only 38 miles from the American border. There he waits for the opportunity to kill West when he attempts an escape. One day, after dismantling prison transmitters and snow vehicles, West takes off on foot.
In dogsled pursuit, the Warden closely follows. Following signs taught him by Fyodor, West makes headway but is eventually shot in the back by the Warden. Left for dead, the gritty survivor picks himself up and drags himself towards the American border, where he is rescued by benevolent Eskimos.
With its gorgeous scenery and authentic local color, THE ICE RUNNER has many virtues, but conciseness is not one of them. Over and over, Fyodor the sage waxes mystical about the zen of running. Over and over, ex-CIA spy West trains his weary mind and body until you think you're watching an
aerobics tape about fast-walking in the Ukraine. The film trades heavily in irony--West is betrayed by his own people but adopted by the Russian villagers--but, surprisingly, West's relationship with the Widow Popovsky rings heartbreakingly true. The conflict between West and the Javert-like
Warden, on the other hand, seems thoroughly contrived; intended to symbolize the clash of Communism and Democracy and to represent the corrupting influence of persecution as a political tool, the sparring between the Warden and his captive fails to work on a dramatic level. (Violence, nudity,adult situations.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: R
- Review: Despite the break-up of the USSR, cold war-style espionage dramas about the cruel Soviet Union continue to surface. Benefitting from authentic locations, but needlessly over-extended, THE ICE RUNNER is a fairly compelling human rights drama; it crosses THE… (more)