Film Review: Colossus

This grind of a mockumentary about a conflicted con artist crafting a film-within-a-film about creating a fake rock band in Russia coats itself in self-regard but ends up as nothing more than a tiresome folly.

“Those geezers in my garage are going to make me a bloody fortune,” announces Clark Larson, the star and ringleader of the slow-moving circus that is Mark Hendrickson’s Colossus, only it’s unclear what band he could possibly be referring to. The titular band that Larson is supposedly filming the creation of isn’t much more than an above-average bar band with a decidedly thin sound. However, they are meant to be the linchpin to Larson’s great idea: create the greatest “artificial rock band” that will take Russia by storm, and shoot it all while it happens as a way of lecturing the audience on the art of coercion, creativity and manipulation. Think of it as the rock-band version of Joaquin Phoenix’s experiment in on-camera thespian self-immolation in I’m Still Here. Or something.

Filmmaker Hendrickson plays Larson himself. An ex-pat businessman living in Russia and self-proclaimed master manipulator, he lectures the camera on lying and scheming and conning—precisely the sort of thing a proper manipulator would not do. Sometimes he does this over Frank Zappa-scored footage of the Bolshevik Revolution, other times as he walks through a dark tunnel, all in the calm, authoritative patter of the BBC professor-narrator. In between those camera addresses, “Larson” runs around Moscow gathering up a crew to shoot his (newly arrived from America) “artificial rock band” and occasionally meeting his bookie to lay down bets to finance the whole thing. At one point, a press conference is convened so that Larson and Colossus can discuss what makes them an artificial rock band. The band squabbles, the crew drifts without any clear instructions, Larson gets frantic as implosion feels near, and the goons start to circle. “This is Russia,” explains a central-casting heavy in one scene. “There are many ways to make people uncomfortable.”

One easy way is to make a film like Colossus. As far as can be determined, Hendrickson wanted to build his statement about the centrality of manipulation to all aspects of life (again, or something) out of layers of artifice stacked on top of one another like nesting dolls. It’s a wincingly pretentious conceit, and one the filmmaker doesn’t come within shouting distance of achieving. His Larson sports a supposedly Cockney accent (badly cribbed from Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast) around some people, while breaking into his natural East Coast American tones around others. He crafts dull scenes of conflict for his performers that are so nakedly scripted, they don’t even serve as effective mockumentary; the average TLC reality show does a better job of delivering faux authenticity. As confused as the crew and band are about Larson’s intentions for their chaotic non-film, viewers will be even more confused as to why they are still watching.

The Bolsheviks sometimes made great art, but it was in the service of an atrocity. Colossus is atrocious art, in the service of nothing.