VOD film review: Citizen K
James R | On 31, May 2020
Director: Alex Gibney
Cast: Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Watch Citizen K online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Sky Store
From Lance Armstrong to abuse within the Catholic Church, Alex Gibney has always been a filmmaker with his hand on the topical button. Here, he once again taps into a timely topic with a documentary about the political machinations and power games of modern Russia.
His means of exploring these big questions is Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oligarch who was once one of just seven men who dominated half of the Russian economy. A shrewd operator, he moved quickly to gain money power in the chaotic period of Yeltsin’s – every bit a match for the similarly calculated Putin, who has since contrived to hold onto power for almost two decades.
It is no wonder, then, that Khodorkovsky is an enemy of Putin’s state, living in exile in London due to charges of murdering a mayor many years ago. Whether real or not we don’t know, but we do see Putin’s clown court treatment of Mikhail that saw his opponent kept in jail for 10 years – and that, coupled with Khodorkovsky’s change of heart towards fighting for the people and real democracy, is enough to put us warily on Mikhail’s side.
That uneasy sympathy and trust in this decidedly ambiguous figure gives Gibney’s documentary a wonderful frisson of tension, as the director and his team dig up all manner of facts that chart his subject’s lifelong rise and fall. With the battle still ongoing today – and the threat of poisoning looming very real and large – Citizen K understandably spends more time on the past than the unfinished present. That, however, results in a dense watch that dwells on some details that feel less immediately relevant than Mikhail’s eventual reform following his time in prison.
But if that means the pacing is occasionally a challenge, the documentary’s ability to distil all of this into something digestible is no less of a marvel, and there is room here for dark humour, bleak examinations of the current state of global democracy, and even the odd touch of whimsical hope. The result is a clinical, absorbing and frightfully pertinent account of a how power can so easily reside in the hands of the few.
Citizen K is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.