By Dan Metcalf, Jr.
Clipper Film Correspondent
The Saratov Approach (Three Coin Productions)
Rated PG-13 for some violence.
Starring Corbin Allred, Maclain Nelson, Nikita Bogolyubov, Alex Veadov, Jennifer Erekson, Bruce Newbold, Peggy Matheson.
Written and Directed by Garrett Batty.
I always approach locally-produced feature films (based on Utah or LDS culture) with a little trepidation. On the one hand, I'm always rooting for artists from or affiliated with my home state. On the other hand, I'm always worried that the quality of the action, special effects, script and acting will be second rate, or at the very least, not up to par with most successful independent films (or Hollywood for that matter). A few such films have succeeded, but have never experienced wide appeal outside the LDS-infused Intermountain west (Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona). The Saratov Approach is the latest such film, based on the true story of two LDS missionaries who were kidnapped, beaten and held for ransom back in 1998.
The (mostly) true story of Elder Tuttle (Corbin Allred) and Elder Propst (Maclain Nelson), takes place in the Russian city of Saratov, where they serve as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The elders are targeted by a young man named Nikolai (Nikita Bogolyubov), who lures them to an apartment where another man named Sergei (Alex Veadov) beats them, ties them up and moves them to secret location. The missionaries are bound, gagged and threatened as their kidnappers release a photo of them to Russian officials, demanding $300,000 for their release.
As the ordeal drags on for five days, the missionaries reflect on their callings as servants of God, and must decide whether or not they should use violent measures to escape.
I really enjoyed The Saratov Approach, despite having a few qualms with the movie. The acting performances of Allred and Maclain are more than adequate, reflecting on the spiritual and emotional struggles of the missionaries rather well (although Allred, a fine actor, looks like he's closer to 39 than 19 years old). The supporting cast is less so, especially during one scene in which Propst's mother gets a little too melodramatic upon learning of the kidnapping. Despite the outstanding performances from Allred and Nelson, the two men portraying the Russian kidnappers (Bogolyubov and Veadov) are a little better, giving The Saratov Approach a little more gravitas than other "local" productions.
Writer-Director Garrett Batty gets credit for spending 6 days in the Ukraine shooting exteriors for The Saratov Approach, giving it a genuine flavor, but loses a few points for using the wilderness around Utah's Strawberry Reservoir (including a Chevy pickup truck) for the film's final climactic scene. I also have a few other small quibbles with some of the creative license taken with the real story but it is a movie, after all.
Batty also gets credit for making a film about Mormon missionaries without using their story as a religious platform. In other words, people of all faiths will be moved and understand the spiritual message of The Saratov Approach without feeling like they've just sat through an LDS missionary lesson. Batty also made an effort to include other faiths in the movie, especially during scenes where other religions showed real concern and prayer for the safe return of the missionaries, making The Saratov Approach a little more approachable for people who live outside the Intermountain west.