CINEQUEST FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Is there a place for forgiveness or compassion for even the most evil of persons? Can a heart be so cold it makes redemption impossible? This question is examined in the most extreme condition in Alastair Newton Brown’s political thriller, Here Be Dragons.
Here Be Dragons begins in 1993 after the United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). UN Agents scoured Europe, apprehending war criminals who had committed the worst atrocities during the Yugoslav Wars. David Locke (Nathan Sapsford) was one such agent, and with the conclusion of the ICTY, the haggard Locke is faced with the prospect of retirement. Yet, something troubling stirs within him, making closure impossible.
One night, a figure from Locke’s past appears: Emir Ibrahimovic (Svetislav ‘Bule’ Goncic), a survivor of the war. Emir believes he knows the location of long believed dead commander Ivan Novak (Vladimir Gvojic). He’s supposedly now living in Belgrade, Serbia. With the disapproval of his superiors, Locke becomes a lone ranger to locate and verify the identity of Novak and then apprehend him to stand trial for his war crimes.
“…locate and verify the identity of Novak and then apprehend him to stand trial…”
While in Belgrade, Locke befriends Novak’s wife (a local lounge singer) and their son. It’s not long before he finds who he thinks is Novak and infiltrates a meeting he’s leading. The meeting is not exactly what you think. Novak has become something of a self-help guru working with men through depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Locke is now conflicted about developing a friendship with his wife and son and using them as bait.
Here Be Dragons is not your typical political thriller, mainly because this is not from the States, which can be a mixed bag. The story takes us out of the frustrating world of U.S. politics and diplomacy and gives us a glimpse at how the rest of the world tries to stop evil. Also, because this is not an American production or tale, it is a low-budget thriller, which means it’s light on action. There are a few military-style standoffs involving guns, but it would have been nice to see a foot or car chase. The thrills come in Locke’s intense undercover operation and the twists, turns, and double-crosses in the end.
What the film lacks in action, it more than makes up for by posing an interesting moral dilemma. I’ve got to dance around it for spoiler reasons, but can a brutal war criminal ever find redemption, and can victims find forgiveness as well? These questions are all explored in the third act and answered in thrilling fashion. We live in a world where we classify our fellow citizens as allies or evil, where compassion has become passe, and killing is viable in the name of justice.
Here Be Dragons opens as a decent thriller and moves us right along to the final moral quandary that will have you thinking about where we’re heading as a species down the road.
Here Be Dragons screened at the 2022 Cinequest Film Festival.
"…will have you thinking about where we're heading as a species..."