Coming to theatres today, Wednesday, January 15:
Toronto, London, Warsaw, AFI Fest, Hamptons, Rio
An exploration of post-Soviet Russia through oligarch-turned-dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
In his latest film, Alex Gibney tells the unusual story of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s transformation from plutocrat to thorn in Putin’s side, but that’s just one level of this smart, dense, and intriguing project. The prolific director’s larger intent, and one that he successfully fulfills, is to cogently detail the development of Russia after the USSR from a nascent democracy to an autocratic state, using Khodorkovsky’s background as a guide. Tracing his ascent in the wild chaos of the early 1990s, when he amassed a fortune by taking advantage of his countrymen on the road to privatization of the nation’s most valuable resources, the film explains how Khodorkovsky and his small circle of fellow oligarchs began to exert political influence, and essentially handpicked minor KGB official Putin to succeed Yeltsin. But the shifty new president started to clash with the oligarchs, seizing back power, and eventually arresting the critical Khodorkovsky on trumped up charges and subjecting him to ridiculous show trials before sending him to Siberia. Emerging after a decade of imprisonment with unexpected moral authority – given his past – Khodorkovsky now supports pro-democracy efforts while living in exile in London, deeply critical of the increasingly authoritarian turn Russia has taken over Putin’s seemingly endless reign. Gibney paints a complex portrait of the man and his country, in all of its contradictions, making for a satisfying and thought-provoking film.