Dolph Lundgren chops it up in front of and behind the screen in ‘The Russian Specialist’ (2005).

After his respectable directorial debut The Defender, Dolph Lundgren swiftly followed up with the sophomore The Russian Specialist (aka The Mechanik) in 2005. By working simultaneously in front of and behind the camera, and also co-authoring the script, he exerted a big share of creative control on the production. The result was a gripping and intense DTV actioner, so let’s have a look!

Ex-Spetznaz operative Nikolai lives a secluded life in the US. He is asked to free a millionaire’s daughter from the captivity of Russian mafia boss Sasha, who killed his wife and child many years ago. Nikolai joins up with mercenary Burton (Ben Cross) to carry out the mission and get his revenge.

Lundgren serves us a classic revenge story à la The Punisher. There is a simple elegance to the plot with three distinct acts: a crunchy exposition, a rescue operation turning into a bloodbath, and the escape to the Finnish border which culminates in a massive shootout.

“Men know how to kill, Women how to survive”

Starting in the 1990s, production company NuImage embraced Bulgaria and shot many fine and cost-efficient action movies there. And its Eastern European vibe is sufficient for us ignorant Westerners to emulate Russia for this film. Lundgren convincingly confirms the impression everyone had of Russia in the early 2000s with rundown city blocks, filthy alleys, and spartan rural villages. It’s a country in disarray, and the somber mood is completed by the fatalistic characters and dark premise of the plot.

Occasionally depression gives way to its more pleasant cousin melancholy, and we can indulge in an atmospheric journey through the city at night, and a somber road trip through the barren countryside. The calmer moments of the film provide a sense of normalcy for our characters, showing us that these hardened killers are genuine human beings after all.

Dolph plays his favorite character, the stoic and melancholic loner, but that’s what exactly what is needed for a bad-ass revenge flick! His Nikolai is a tormented soul who has accepted that he is powerless to change things for the better. He is complemented by Ben Cross, who gives a portrayal of an equally pessimistic but more talkative character, and together they are the perfect tragic action buddy duo. Lundgren’s direction is efficient, with grainy visuals, simple montages and calm takes outside of the action sequences. It all looks a lot better than your average 2000s B-actioner.

A hard-boiled action thriller and melancholic road trip

In this cruel world, violence starts abruptly. There’s plenty of bloody and intense shootouts with a choreography that is more than serviceable for a DTV actioner. The action does not come in big set pieces, but Lundgren convincingly builds up the tension in this deadly cat and mouse game through back alleys, barns and grain fields. 

For the big finale a Russian rural village turns into a turn into an Old West main street, and Lundgren unleashes a relentless bullet inferno. On top of all the shooting, he still knows how to deliver the martial arts goods, and kicks evil goons through windows whenever the opportunity arises.

With The Russian Specialist, Lundgren created a film that is uncomplicated in the best sense, with exciting action sequences and an intense atmosphere. The film is a highlight of his DTV era, and a fine addition to his credentials as a formidable director for ultimate action flicks!