A movie review of “Leviathan,” a strong Russian drama loosely based on the Book of Job. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

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Toward the end of the dark and startling Russian drama “Leviathan,” the central character, Kolya (Alexei Serebriakov), turns up at a fishing-village store, looking wild-eyed and desperate.

What could he want, wonders the store manager.

“Vodka,” he says. “What else?”

Movie Review ★★★½  

‘Leviathan,’ with Alexei Serebriakov, Elena Lyadova, Serguei Pokhodaev, Roman Madianov. Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, from a screenplay by Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin. 141 minutes. Rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity. In Russian, with English subtitles. Guild 45th.

Indeed, what else could anyone think of drinking in what sometimes appears to be a celebration of a national obsession with booze. At times the movie suggests a Cheech and Chong comedy with cannabis replaced by vodka.

The comic relief is necessary in a story that is loosely based on the Book of Job. The universe, invoked in the opening and closing shots of Barents Sea surf pounding on rocks, is clearly indifferent to the problems of a man who is in danger of losing everything.

Philip Glass’ relentless score, partly borrowed from his music for the opera “Akhenaten,” adds to the effect. And the actors never fail to illuminate the conflicts that set the plot in motion.

Kolya’s rebellious son, Roma (Serguei Pokhodaev), loathes Kolya’s new wife, Lilya (Elena Lyadova). The town’s tyrannical mayor, Vadim (Roman Madianov), threatens to take away Kolya’s home, his land and his auto-repair shop.

The more Kolya resists Vadim, the more aggressive Vadim becomes. Before either of them realizes that they’re involved in a fight to the death, a lawyer is complicating the situation and the mayor is behaving like a gangster king.

The director, Andrey Zvyagintsev, made “The Return” (2003), one of the strongest Russian films of recent years, and once more proves himself a master. An early scene establishing the relationship of the boy and his unwelcome new mother is framed and shot so economically that it takes your breath away.

A Golden Globe winner for best foreign film, and a current Oscar nominee in the same category, “Leviathan” has stirred controversy in Russia, where the nonstop drinking (and smoking) of the characters has drawn condemnation as well as praise.