Randomly, this 2003 movie was my Fourth of July midnight viewing. It’s the saga of the rise and fall of an oligarch (and Victor Morton is right that the English version should have just transliterated the Russian title, Олигарх) and at two hours it actually feels rushed. I would watch a lot more of the story of Platon Makovsky, Jewish orphan turned Christian billionaire.
The movie has a sort of 1970s feel, in its deep colors and gritty atmosphere, which is appropriate since so much of its story is about the hangover from the Soviet era. The story begins in the USSR and is haunted by it. Makovsky is the antihero; the real villain is a cold, greasy slab of bureaucrat, who gets a set-piece speech about how his family has always served power, from the days of the tsar to the post-Soviet Kremlin. This sense of the constantly repressed and constantly returning past is one of the movie’s themes, and explains its structure, which interlaces past and present.
There are all kinds of moments and images which I think would be deeply gratifying (or at least interesting!) to the AmCon readership–images of the collusion of governmental and economic power, and of the willful idiocy and xenophobia which fuel the reactions against that collusion. “Russia” is a character in this movie, yes, but she’s basically the damsel in distress, exploited by everyone and mistreated even by her lovers.
This is a twisty, propulsive movie about friendship, betrayal, and vengeance. There’s elephant-riding, adultery (portrayed with startling and in my opinion totally unnecessary explicitness), one-way-only cell phones, rivers of cognac and oceans of vodka, and a deep sense of futility at the heart of it all, a sense of the inescapability of the past. (Sort of reminiscent of the Moscow Noir collection, really.)
There’s also a quick, lightly-handled moment in which a group of bandits open a closet and grab their rifles and grenades, preparing for an assassination; the head bandit keeps his guns in his prayer closet, in front of his icons. Russia and America: secret twins!