2019, Movies

Citizen K (2019, Alex Gibney)

This is a mostly excellent documentary about Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian oligarch turned activist and his battle with Vladimir Putin. It’s particularly notable for two things: its attempts to portray Khodorkovsky as a flawed person, and its relative creativity at telling the story.

So, this is about a guy who made himself very rich and exploited the early, lawless days of Russian capitalism/democracy, his come-to-Jesus “moment” and what he has done since. The film doesn’t paint the worst picture of Khodorkovsky, but it does try to show that he was not perfect – that his money was gained in ways that were very likely unethical, and that it’s possible he was involved in worse things than that. The film is clearly on his side, but it also acknowledges he’s no saint. (Yes, it could definitely go further in this regard. But I think the point is that Khodorkovsky, like Bill Gates, is now on the right side of history, even if he wasn’t when he was younger.)

The film does an excellent job on the backstory. I for one do not know enough about post-USSR Russia and this film provides lots of information about how the Oligarchs came to be and the like.

It also does a good job telling the parallel stories of the Oligarchs and Putin. And some of the techniques used in the film are fairly clever. There are the usual talking heads, archival footage and (very limited) reenactments, but there is a clever use of subtitles, for example, that makes things a little more interesting.

The film is a little too long. (I, for one, would have ended the film with the Putin song.) And the end of the film is too unequivocally on Khodorkovsky’s side, given the way he made his money. But, for the most part, it’s a nuanced exploration of Russian politics through the lens of the experience of one oligarch’s fall from Putin’s graces.

8/10

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