David vs. Goliath tales are quite typical in documentary features. Filmmaker Alex Gibney seems to envision himself as David. His Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room dealt with the massive self-combustion of the titular corrupt corporation. Gibney scrutinized USA’s interrogation practices during the War in Afghanistan in Taxi to the Dark Side. He revealed the machinations behind scientology in the mesmerizing Going Clear: Scientology & the Prison of Belief.
With Citizen K, Gibeny focuses his attention on the ongoing battles between two major Goliaths: Russian President Vladimir Putin and oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky. He traces the rise and fall – and a Phoenix-like reemergence – of Khodorkovsky, once known to be the wealthiest man in Russia, now an “unlikely martyr for the anti-Putin movement.” The result is a supremely entertaining documentary that sheds light on a tumultuous period in one of the world’s Great Empires.
“…focuses his attention on the ongoing battles between two major Goliaths: Russian President Vladimir Putin and oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky…”
That said, Gibney’s film is so crammed with details, it both zips by (no small feat, at over two hours), and feels a bit overloaded with nary a moment to breathe in-between the assault of information. One can only imagine the hours and hours of footage Gibney had to sort through, to assemble a coherent and compelling portrait of a dispute between two major figures, set against the background of a continuously-morphing sociopolitical turmoil.
Growing up in Moscow during the mid-1990’s, I had little-to-no interest in politics. That said, it was impossible to not be aware of the big news. Post-Perestroika, Russia’s “bold attempt to shift from years of communist rule to free-market capitalism” was akin to a blind “jump off a cliff” under the guidance of fearless leader, President Boris Yeltsin. The once-great, now-dismantled country just lay there, open for the taking. Taking advantage of the chaos, oligarchs skyrocketed to the top of the social ladder – mostly by way of illegal activities – leaving the rest scrambling in their dust. One of the names that kept popping up, I vividly remember, was Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s.