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Three dead bodies are found at night beneath the snow in Moscow’s Gorky Park. Two men and a woman, but identification is impossible as their faces as well as their fingertips have been sliced off. Moscow’s best detective, Police Inspector Arkady Renko (William Hurt) has been assigned to lead the investigation into the murders. From the start Renko suspects KGB involvement and wishes to be released from the case, fearing he’ll be the KGB fall guy. Renko’s concerns are not unfounded; he already had a skirmish with the KGB the previous year when he uncovered evidence implicating one of their top officials in a murder. However, Chief Prosecutor Iamskoy (Ian Bannen) insists this is a case for militia police and promises to fully back Renko in his investigation wherever it may lead.
Where the investigation first leads Arkady is to NYPD Detective William Kirwill (Brian Dennehy) who’s doing his own private investigating as he suspects his younger brother may be one of the three victims. It also leads to a beautiful, Siberian dissident (Joanna Pacula) who may have been friends with one of the victims. She is fearful and distrustful of everyone, especially Renko. In addition to constant and dangerous interference by the KGB into his investigation of the three murders, Arkady’s growing attraction to Irina only complicates his task.
While at a men’s health club (invited by Prosecutor Iamskoy) Renko is introduced to wealthy American businessman and trader in sables, Jack Osborne (Lee Marvin). The wily and ruthless Osborne has decades long influential connections and enjoys privileges with the highest echelons of power on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Arkady may appear to be a plodding detective, but he’s full of guile, determination and as he admits to Osborne, patience.
Filmed in Helsinki (the Soviet Union refused permission to film in the real Moscow) Gorky Park is not a conventional thriller. It is a complex, intricate, densely plotted detective story with intelligent dialogue and superb character development. The murder suspect is revealed fairly early on, but not the motive.
Star Wars fans will no doubt recognize Ian McDiarmid (Senator Palpatine) as quirky forensic pathologist Professor Andreev.
The Soviet Union is no more, the Iron Curtain has disappeared and while the ending is admittedly less than satisfactory, Gorky Park still remains, 30 years later, an intriguing and entertaining movie.