Despite its rather confusing title, “The Saratov Approach” (not named for a chess strategy) is a better than average drama based on a true story about two LDS missionaries who were kidnapped while serving in Russia.
Avoiding most, if not all the mistakes of similarly limited-budget, faith-based films (“Ephraim’s Rescue” comes to mind), “The Saratov Approach” doesn’t preach too hard or lazily seek to only entertain its built-in religious audience. It also wisely sticks to the unique details of its story, which are gripping enough.
Young full-time missionaries Elder Tuttle (Corbin Allred of “Saints and Soldiers”) and Elder Probst (Maclain Nelson) are serving in the Samara, Russia mission in 1998. Following up on a routine street contact in the city of Saratov (Southeast of Moscow, Northeast of Ukraine), the pair is attacked, handcuffed, kidnapped and taken to a remote apartment and held hostage for a $300,000 ransom. Their Russian captors are auto mechanics named Sergei (an intensely menacing Alex Veadov) and Nikolai (less menacing, but equally credible Nikita Bogolyubov) who hope to capitalize on the LDS church’s wealth.
The film depicts scenes of the understandably traumatized families back home in the States, in addition to the limited involvement by the U.S. State Department, which doesn’t have much information to work with and has a firm non-negotiation policy.
For a low budget film, director Garrett Batty and crew do an admirable job of capturing the intensity and desperation of the two young men involved. The film is at its best in these intimate scenes where Allred and Nelson bring a palpable humanity to their characters. They debate the merits of Michael Jordan and share touching spiritual moments with a balanced, easygoing conviction.
Less effective are the distracting hand-held camera shots, the rather amateurish make-up effects and an apparent determination to have everyone in the cast cry as much as humanly possible. We know it is heart wrenching—the point doesn’t need to be hammered home every other scene. (More faith-based films would do well to adhere to the old stage saying, “Fewer tears in the actors, more tears in the audience.”)
But these minor issues don’t prevent “The Saratov Approach” from being a riveting tale that affirms the faith of the already converted without insulting the intelligence of the skeptic who primarily wants a high-caliber movie with a great, even miraculous, payoff. We need more films like “The Saratov Approach” despite the very real terror upon which they depend for source material.
Rated PG-13 for some violence
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