Cold Snowing environment where ice skating is seen to the tune of blaring classical symphony over the loudspeakers for the enjoyment of the frolicking skaters. Night, three humps in the snow certainly the covered over bodies that are surrounded by the police.
Moscow's police/militia top investigator, Arkady Renko (William Hurt) is discussing the scene with his trusted suborinates. The arriving KGB agent is met with insults and sarcasm from detective Renko. The KGB agent stomps onto the crime scene brushes away the snow to reveal one of the defining details of this movie - the faces have been removed from the 3 victims. 2 men and 1 woman.
As it becomes more and more clear to Renko. this is bigger than the bizarre finding of 3 mutilated victims in the middle of a large and well traveled public park. The immediate arrival of KGB to a crime scene in the dark of night, to a host of other unsettling details. At first Renko wisely does his best to shift the case findings so he can in fact hand the case over to the KGB, everyone who crosses his path agrees this is best to stay as far away from anything associated with the KGB.
The coroner with nicely played dark humour dishes out the details of the victims, from here Renko pieces together the actual crime, and identifies the very things that "Don't add up" as he puts it. These missing pieces become his marching orders to his nature and he returns to the morgue, takes the heads to a local research scientist and convinces him to reconstruct the faces, in the style of caveman reconstruction.
Renko, by his nature, gains a tighter grip the deeper he goes, eventually refusing any notion to abandon this case. He stumbles across a female - she is Irina (Joanna Pacula) he needs to question her because one of the victims was wearing ice skates that had been reported stolen by Irina. As time evolves, it is clear she is no incidental victim of petty theft of her ice skates
Eventually Renko retrieves these sculpted faces of the dead. With a certain cruelty he thrusts the reconstructed faces of the victims like the spector of dead friends into the face of Irina, to her shock and horror she cannot continue to hide the truth, she knew the victims.
The plot drives thru a labyrinth of red herrings and dark corners, including an American brut whose immediate motives are not clear. At first a downright violent problem to Renko, the American - William Kirwill (Brian Dennehey) becomes as close to a friend as Renko can have in his position.
But this is not a case about stolen ice skates, Another american with financial clout named Jack Osborne (Lee Marvin) seems to be tied to the every growing connections to the victims. Corrupt government officials, KGB agents with evil intents of their own, lying women, disfunctional friends that like to pulverize your face... Renko is operating in a violent and unsafe world.
Turn after turn level under sublevel there is more than a crime of murder or simple desire for money involved. The impending doom is in everyones' demeanor as the specter of the KGB and the gruesome murders are a mere backdrop to the very real possibility that any of the characters could be next.
The plot lines cross and tangle enough to blur the lines between whose motives are part good, part selfish, part self-preservation. So the advancement of the plot self-propels the advancement of the emotional attachment between all characters involved.
I will return with a true play by play , blow by blow synopsis, but for now be warned the next paragraph contains the secret of the movie and is as hard to understand as it is to find in the story.
Follow the money and you will see the crux of the mystery, Osborne played by Lee Marvin is an American involved in illegal sable breeding that could potentially be worth tens of millions if he can extricate these creatures from Russia where their breeding is jealously guarded. Almost everything in this mystery emanates from this motive. I will do my best to return soon with a proper synapsis, it is a bit of a tangled story.