Tanks for the Memories
Director: Aleksey Sidorov
Writer: Aleksey Sidorov
Starring Alexander Petrov, Vinzenz Kiefer, Irina Starshenbaun, Viktor Dobronrnov, Yuriy Borisov, Anton Bogdanov.
The Russian film, T-34, is sort of a throwback to the old war epics I grew up on. No anti-war agenda, cynicism, or commentary on how combat changes a soldier. It doesn’t drop the viewer into the unflinching chaos of battle with hyper-realistic depictions of human carnage. With an emphasis on plot and action, it’s more Great Escape than Saving Private Ryan, something of a rarity in modern war films. As such, the movie is a lot of fun.
During World War II, Nikolay Ivushkin (Alexander Petrov) is a Russian tank commander who manages to destroy an entire squad of German tanks during a skirmish. Unfortunately, he is shot by SS officer Klaus Jager (Vinzenz Kiefer). Four years later, Ivushkin is a POW scheduled to be executed for refusing to give his name and rank. However, Jager remembers him. Still impressed by what Ivushkin was able to do with a single tank during their previous encounter, Jager makes him an offer he really can’t refuse: Assemble a crew to restore a stolen Russian tank (the T-34 of the title) and serve as an unarmed practice target for young cadets. If they survive, Ivushkin will be required to train new German tank crews.
Ivushkin reluctantly agrees, but while he and his crew are prepping the tank, they discover some live shells hidden beneath the bodies of the dead crew the Nazis left inside. It’s at this point Ivushkin comes up with an escape plan, using the tank to blast their way out and head for the Czech border. He gets some assistance from Anya (Irina Starshenbaum), another POW who serves as an interpreter between Ivushkin and Jager. She offers to steal a much-needed map if they take her with him. The second half of the film is a thrilling chase across the countryside, with Ivushkin trying to outwit Jager, who unleashes troops, tanks, and planes to track him down.
I don’t know how plausible T-34 is, but it’s fast-paced, exciting, and often suspenseful, aided considerably by impressive action and special effects (particularly the slow-motion scenes of shells striking their targets). Though fairly light on characterisation, Ivushkin and his crew certainly grow on us and Jager is an effective villain (his grudging respect for Ivushkin renders him not-entirely hateful). However, the pointless romantic subplot between Ivushkin and Anya feels shoehorned in for the sake of a love scene. One minute they’re allies, the next they’re practically star-crossed lovers.
Other than that, T-34 is a welcome throwback to the World War II movies Hollywood used to crank out before getting all serious and self-important on us. There isn’t a lot of depth, but with a simple story, likable characters, and some big, loud action, it’s well-crafted and very entertaining.