Now Streaming: RHINO: UKRANIAN GODFATHER, A Raw Look at Criminal Underworld in 90s Ukraine
Rhino chronicles the rise of its titular character, from a two-bit criminal to a full-time gangster in the Ukranian underworld in the 1990s. Sentsov starts his story when Rhino was a small boy growing up in rural Ukraine. There are hints of a stewing anger brewing inside this child, lashing out at the environment around him and fighting off other boys in the neighborhood. Then Sentsov does something truly impressive.
It takes a moment to realize that Sentsov is doing the whole adolescent life cycle of Rhino, and a period of history in Ukraine, cutting together moments of his life by moving from one room to the next in a near seamless fashion. It is a nearly ten-minute stretch of weaving together moments such as a brother heading off to Afghanistan, a wayward father returning home, a sister's wedding, and more importantly, the fall of the Soviet Union which opened the doors for the criminal element to prosper and recruit disillusioned young men. It all brings us to the 1990s and Rhino's transition from thug to gangster.
In an interview with THR Sentsov said, "This movie is based on real events. It’s the story of one of my friends who I knew well at the time. All this stuff happened to him. My role in this was just to create the story around it. But I didn’t add any additional drama. It’s a story of a real person, about the terrible things he did. About his regrets and confession and his attempt to transform and live a completely different life".
We appreciate that Rhino makes a prosaic portrayal of the criminal underworld. There are no lavish palaces or decadence to be seen. Rhino and his lads get their share of whores and wine in bathhouses but Sentsov is hardly glorifying this lifestyle like Western counterparts have done throughout the years. Sure, Rhino drives a BMW, but it’s got scratches on the windshield from the worn out wipers. Our day job is in automotive repairs. Wipers are cheap, windshields are not. The homes they live in are cramped and ramshackle. The rural environment is cold and harsh. It is an environment that gives reason to do whatever you think you need to do in order to get ahead.
The violence is unflinching but often passes by quickly. Again, there can be nothing glamorous about what is happening here or it would take away from Sentsov’s intent. Often Sentsov does not even show the violence, only its aftermath. In his own way, Sentsov presents violent actions like Beat Takeshi had done sometimes in his yakuza crime films, he being the gold standard of stoic and nihilistic crime cinema throughout the 90s.
Serhii Filimonov makes his feature film debut in Rhino, nicknamed that because of the lump on his forehead. Think of him as a bull in a china shop that has not so much shop to rumble in.
The role is fairly one note for the duration but by the final act Filimonov is given more chances to stretch emotionally as the inevitable tragedy that besieges a life of crime reaches him.
The story of Rhino draws to a close after he's come to terms with all that he has done and all that he has lost. Throughout the story, he has been sharing his life-of-crime story through these extended flashback scenes with a passenger in his car. Rhino is waiting for someone, a final meeting he will have before he leaves a life of crime behind him forever.
Rhino is a raw, unglamorous look at the criminal underworld in post Cold War Europe. Starting today you will find Oleg Sentsov's crime thriller Rhino: Ukrainian Godfather in the U.S. on iTunes and Vudu from XYZ Films.