In 1998, two Mormon missionaries were kidnapped and held for ransom in Saratov, Russia. The Saratov Approach opens in Utah theaters October 9th. Watch the trailer and visit the Facebook page.
Recently the MMM team was given the opportunity to view an advanced screening of The Saratov Approach. Here are our reviews.
Mormon cinema, like Mormon literature, doesn't have a great reputation. Sometimes it surprises us with a really fantastic film, like Napoleon Dynamite or Brigham City or Saints and Soldiers, but most of the time that's not the case. Most of the time we get a comedy or a pioneer movie that seems like a roadshow with a budget. Maybe that's an exaggeration, but to be honest, I've been a little underwhelmed by a lot of recent Mormon films.
When I got the chance to preview The Saratov Approach, a recent film about the real-life 1998 kidnappings of two missionaries in Russia, I worried that it would leave me underwhelmed as well--despite its compelling premise and fantastic trailer. I'm happy to report, though, that The Saratov Approach gives me hope in the future of Mormon cinema. Like the best Mormon films, it strikes a nice balance between the gritty and the uplifting. It testifies of gospel principles without detracting from the realities that make life challenging for peoples and communities. It also reminds us that life is the outcome of an ongoing chain of choices that asks us what kind of person we want to be. In this film, we get characters--kidnappers--who make terrible choices even though they are initially motivated by righteous desires. We also get Missionaries who struggle to be Christ-like to their captors when every instinct seems to compel them to do otherwise.
Mormon films like The Saratov Approach are not made very often. However, when they are, they remind us of the great things that can happen when we take ourselves, our stories, and our faith seriously.
Whenever I hear about a "Mormon movie" I groan and roll my eyes, and with good reason. The catalog of Mormon-themed movies isn't exactly spectacular/award-winning and leaves much to be desired in both script and production quality. So, when I sat down to watch this movie, I braced myself for another eye-rolling experience. I couldn't have been more wrong.
The Saratov Approach grabbed my attention from the very beginning. The production quality was top notch, and the script didn't read like some video produced at Church headquarters. Obviously the religious tones of the movie were there throughout, but what I appreciated most was that this movie could just as easily have been about Baptist, or any other religion's, missionaries, and the religious message would have been the same. In other words, despite being about Mormons, this movie didn't scream "hey only Mormons will get this!!!"
I'll admit that I was a little bored in the middle, as it is very dialogue heavy with not much action, but it was worth it to get to the end of the story and feel along with the characters the relief and joy of being free (oops....spoiler).
The Saratov Approach was well done. I visited Saratov in '92 and have set foot in the LDS chapel there. My experience there made the missionary kidnapping even more relevant and real me. I lived in New York City at the time of the kidnapping and must have been sufficiently caught up in my own life that I didn't know about this incident. I was impressed with the movie's realistic, suspenseful interpretation. The music was just right. The Saratov story is compelling for anyone who has served a mission or had a family member do so. It represents almost a worst case scenario for any missionary family. The camera's free motion reminded me of a Bourne film, only on a smaller budget with just a few principle actors. I definitely recommend the movie. It's moving, thought provoking and certainly worth your time.
I watched The Saratov Approach the same weekend I saw Gravity. Gravity was out-of-this-world good. Saratov was more … grounded. I guess I could compare the two and write about how far LDS film has to go. But this really isn’t a good comparison. In my opinion, good LDS film inspires us to greater spirituality without being overly spiritual. And for me, Saratov accomplishes this. I recommend you see this film in theaters if possible, or buy the DVD when it comes out.
When we sat down to watch The Saratov Approach I had zero expectations. I tend to have very low hopes when it comes to films with an LDS theme so when I was surprisingly engaged right from the beginning I decided this might be more interesting than I supposed and put my phone down. I could tell this film was going to get my full attention.
Although the actors playing the missionaries look way older than their early 20's, I found them very likable and seeing the somewhat monotonous day-to-day, highs and lows of missionary life and conversations brought me back to my own experience. Waxing nostalgic about your mission is always a good time, right?
The film was super intense and I found myself thinking that I was happy I hadn't seen this before going on mission or I might have been more freaked out about being kidnapped. The filmmakers struck the right balance of adding suspense with a touch of spirituality without being too overly cheesy or unbelievable. One of the better LDS-themed films out there!
I gave up on Mormon-themed films a long time ago. "But you'll like God's Army 2," they said. "It's not like the others—it's actually good." It wasn't.
The Saratov Approach helps restore my faith in Mormon drama. It's well executed and powerful. The storytelling pulls you in and keeps you involved. The acting is decent enough not to be distracting (Nikita Bogolyubov is particularly on point). Noticeably absent from the movie is the presence of the LDS church. Any references to the headquarters in Salt Lake are vague. This was not bothersome, just apparent. Overall an impressive and touching film. I recommend seeing it.