November 27th, 1941, the village of Nefedovo on the outskirts of Moscow, as machines of war crawl across the winter desolation the command to the defending troops is to “Fight to the bitter end,” yet with only one single tank against the approaching battalion of Nazi Panzers the only officer with the relevant experience is Junior Lieutenant Nikolai Yvushkin who finds himself placed in command of a T-34 tank.
Pitting skill and tactics against the overwhelming force, despite the determination of Ivushkin and his crew, he and driver Stepan Vasilyonok are captured by Standartenführer Klaus Jäger and taken to the Thuringia Concentration Camp, near the German/Czech border where Yvushkin remains the defiant “Tank Man” until the return of Jäger three years later.
The T-34 technically superior to the equivalent German Panzers, Jäger pressures Ivushkin by threatening to kill translator Anya Yartseva unless he cooperates, finding a crew and restoring a damaged T-34 to allow the Germans to study it; along with Vasilyonok, artilleryman Serafim Ionov and machine gunner Demyan Volchok, he agrees, apparently a betrayal of his loyalty, but the Tank Man has his own plans.
Written and directed by Aleksey Sidorov and now released with the international title Iron Fury, under the name T-34 it was one of the biggest box office hits in its native Russia, reuniting the stars of Attraction (Притяжение), Alexander Petrov and Irina Starshenbaum and grossing over two billion rubles when it was released early last year.
Magnificently filmed, contrasting the beautiful countryside with the violence and madness of war with occasional breaths of glorious hope, Iron Fury is ridiculous and exhilarating and occasionally very satisfying as Yvushkin turns the tables on his nemesis, taking the supposedly unarmed T-34 and making a break for freedom through the mountains and forests, Jäger in pursuit with his own force.
Sidorov’s obsession with slow-motion in the battle scenes swiftly becoming tiresome, what is more infuriating is the decision to dub the Russian dialogue into Americanised English with no option for the original soundtrack while the German dialogue remains subtitled, any subtlety in the performances lost to monotone yelling, though as Iron Fury is built equally on spectacle than drama it is an understandable if frustrating commercial sacrifice made in deference to the target audience.
Iron Fury is available on DVD from Monday 27th January from Altitude