THREE AND A HALF STARS Until Putin decided otherwise, Mikhail Khodorkovsky owned all of Russia's gas.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Vladimir Putin
The name Mikhail Khodorkovsky isn’t exactly house-hold (at least, not outside Russia), but if you were watching the news in 2003, you may recall images of a good-looking billionaire being bustled into a police van like a crack dealer on a housing estate. The man was Russian oligarch Khodorkovsky, and as far as President Vladimir Putin was concerned, he now had no more rights than a crack dealer. Accused of tax avoidance and grand theft, if found guilty, his next destination would be Siberia. After the trumped up charges were pushed through a sham court, the authorities did, and it was.
Acclaimed director Alex Gibney (SILENCE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD) is the Woody Allen of documentary makers, churning out a new film every year if not more often. An encounter with Khodorkovsky, now ‘free’ in London, piqued his interest and resulted in this endlessly fascinating portrait of the exiled oligarch.
A man who was viewed as the Gordon Gecko of Yeltsin’s Russia, Khodorkovsky made his fortune on the back of witless countrymen who failed to recognise the value of new government bonds. He did, and bought them for a pittance, a process that enabled him to then buy government assets at a distressed price. Before you could say ‘zhadnost’ eto khorosho’, he owned the biggest gas company in Russia, and with money came political power. Which is when Putin stepped forward.
In less nimble hands, CITIZEN K could be as dry as a two hour edition of the finance news. Instead the story is invested with a dry wit and has been attached it to a redemption arc: Khodorkovsky in Moscow was an unlikeable money-grubbing cheat. Twenty years later in London and he’s working a grass roots campaign to bring true democracy to Russia. With three decades of news footage and exceptional access to many of the key players, Gibney assembles a powerful telling about one of the most significant political events in contemporary Russia. It also serves as a timely reminder about how far one man will go to cement his stranglehold on the world’s largest dictatorship.