Right from the opening scene of the Russian language “Leviathan,” when an aerial shot shows lights coming on at dawn in homes throughout a little coastal town on the Barents Sea, you just know this is going to be a slow, brooding movie (it’s also long, at 140 minutes).

For admirers of long, slow, brooding movies, that’s not a problem. People who need some action to go along with dialogue they have to read might want to stay away. But they’d miss what earned the film its Oscar nomination: an engrossing story and uniformly strong acting to support it.

Kolya is a self-employed auto mechanic, who ekes out a living in the small shop right next to the coastal home he shares with his wife Lilya and teenage son Roman. Lilya and Roman are often at odds – hey, he’s a teenager – Kolya and Lilya are tight, and Kolya and Roman get along quite well, though Kolya can be a strict father.

But this is much more about other forces intruding upon this family than about the family. Kolya’s people have owned the patch of land upon which sits his home and business for generations. But a local mayor, Vadim, a nasty bully of a man who likes his vodka, wants that parcel of land. He thinks it would be a great site for a local community center. Or maybe it’s that a new community center would look good on his résumé with an election right around the corner.

At the film’s start, Kolya has a court hearing coming up, one that will decide whether he keeps and stays on his property or the mayor gets to tear it down. Unable to handle it himself, Kolya, who is also a drinker and has the reputation of being a hot-head, calls upon his old army buddy Dima, now a successful lawyer in Moscow, to make the train trip and work on the case.

All Kolya wants is to continue living his quiet, ordered life. All Vadim wants is to be re-elected, at any cost. It seems that the two men have hated each other for some time, and when drunk Vadim comes out to inspect the property, he calls Kolya an insect. Drunk Kolya has equally charming words at the ready for the awful mayor. A courtroom fight is shaping up.

But believe it or not, there are corrupt politicians in Russia! Good guy lawyer Dima lets bad guy Vadim know that he has some dirt on him. Whether he really does is another story. But Dima also knows it’s going to be an uphill battle that he and his client will probably lose, so he makes it clear that if the mayor gets the land, he at least wants the monetary value of it for Kolya.

It’s at that point that complications set in. They include: some jail time for one character, more than a hint that Dima’s got something going on with Kolya’s wife, an even bigger hint that the Russian Church is as corrupt as its politicians, and the suggestion that everyone in Russia drinks too much. What makes things more interesting is that a lot of events occur off-camera, leaving viewers uncertain about where the plot is going or even has been.

One thing for sure is that “Leviathan” features a batch of unhappy characters who could easily fill the frames of an Ingmar Bergman film of the late-’50s or early-’60s. Lilya may be the unhappiest of all, the one who most needs to escape from the worsening situation. But you feel for everyone here. Everyone except, of course, the mayor. It’s through him and his dealings with Kolya that the film develops its study of the haves versus the have-nots. When they’re all up there to be examined by viewers, the feelings experienced range all the way from sympathy to disgust. That’s a lot of ground to cover, but there’s plenty of time and good acting here to make it all work.

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.

LEVIATHAN
Written by Oleg Negin and Andrey Zvyagintsev; directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev
With a bunch of Russian actors whose names are hard to spell and impossible to pronounce
Rated R