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Equal parts nerve-jangling thriller and faith-empowering drama, "The Saratov Approach" is a low-budget movie that builds up its tension in a tightly confined space.
Based on a 1998 incident, the film begins with two elders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving as missionaries in Russia. Andrew Propst (Maclain Nelson) is the veteran, running the newbie Travis Tuttle (Corbin Allred) through the daily routine of missionary work.
One day, they meet a Russian teen, Nikolai (Nikita Bogolyubov), who says he's interested in the elders' message, and they arrange to meet at the young man's apartment. The appointment turns out to be a trap, as Nikolai is waiting with Sergei (Alex Veadov), who has a gun. Soon the elders are bound, hooded and being dragged to a remote farmhouse where they are held for a ransom of $300,000.
Writer-director Garrett Batty alternates the narrative between the missionaries' captivity and scenes of their families, back home in the States, dealing with the uncertainty of the ongoing crisis. The families face the discomforting fact that neither the U.S. government nor the LDS Church will pay the ransom, for fear that it will make every foreign missionary and every American visiting overseas a target.
Batty interviewed both Propst and Tuttle, and their families, and from those conversations he creates quietly moving scenes of the missionaries' captivity. The missionaries battle not only the threats of the gun-wielding Sergei, but also minor irritations such as boredom and discomfort. They also seek to connect with the young Nikolai, who seems to be a reluctant player in the kidnapping.
The movie also shows how a small budget can go a long way. Batty filmed some exterior scenes in Estonia, but the bulk of the film from the missionaries' confinement to the families' homes was shot in Utah.
The stateside scenes are rather routine, but they are countered by the moving scenes of Allred (a familiar face to Utah audiences from the "Saints & Soldiers" movies) and Nelson re-creating those days of captivity. In their portrayal of the missionaries, combatting their fear and finding comfort in their faith, Allred and Nelson give "The Saratov Approach" a quietly resolute strength.
'The Saratov Approach'
Two LDS missionaries are kidnapped while serving in Russia, in this fact-based drama that's quietly stirring.
Where • Area theaters.
When • Opens Wednesday, Oct. 9.
Rating • PG-13 for some violence.
Running time • 107 minutes.