Jaded by Prison
Mickey Almon (David Keith - An Officer and a Gentleman), a former American athlete turned TV reporter heads to Moscow to cover a World sporting event. But whilst there he is arrested by the KGB after a Russian scientist approaches him as he wants him to smuggle his research out of Russia. Days of interrogation follow till Almon agrees to admit to being a spy in return for his release except all it leads to is a train journey to a labour camp close to the Arctic Circle. After befriending fellow foreign prisoner Kenneth Barrington (Malcolm McDowell - Blue Thunder) he learns that he will be worked to death, except Almon won't accept it and with Barrington plan their escape.
The thing to remember is that "Gulag" was made during the 80s when the world was a different place and there were major issues between Russians and Americans and as such it has shall we say a one sided portrayal of reality with one side being the heroes the other the enemy. It means that watching "Gulag" more than a quarter of a century later it is a bit weak with its less than subtle approach to national portrayals. In fact at times "Gulag" comes incredibly close to being little more than a propaganda movie.
Once you detach your self from the heavy handed lack of subtlety and what we have is a prison movie. We get to see the tough life inside and the attempt to escape and the tough decisions which have to be made in the freezing cold. And as such it is mostly routine with unfortunately quite a few technical weaknesses from costumes which are incorrect to standard camera work. It makes "Gulag" a movie which probably at the start had a good idea but that got lost under what might be seen as a political agenda.
The sad thing about "Gulag" is that it has a reasonable cast especially in the under appreciated David Keith. But because of its heavy handed nature and comically bad dialogue these actors are underserved as at times it seems to veer close to being more of a comedy. The initial interrogation scene is a prime example as the Russian tells Almon "what difference does that make" when he protests his innocence. But it has to be said that the likeability of the cast go along way to make "Gulag" still watchable.
What this all boils down to is that "Gulag" is entertaining but it isn't a very good movie, mostly down to the less than subtle way it represents the different sides.