Citizen K (4 stars)

Citizen K

Mikhail Khodorkovsky is the subject of a gripping documentary from Oscar winner Alex Gibney

Oscar-winning documentarian Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) returns with this fascinating account of the life of oligarch-turned-agitator Mikhail Khodorkovsky, painting a chilling portrait of Vladimir Putin's Russia in the process. Packed with information, it's a dizzying, roller-coaster ride of a doc that grips like a political thriller.

Providing his own narration, Gibney opens by establishing that Khodorkovsky is currently in exile in London, unable to return to Russia because of an outstanding arrest warrant for a murder that occurred in 1998. The twinkly-eyed Mikhail, on hand for lengthy to-camera interviews, insists that he's not guilty, but Gibney lays out the case in enough detail for the audience to make up their own minds.

Fortunately, other elements of the story aren't quite so slippery. Through a combination of talking head interviews (from journalists, commentators and contemporaries), archive footage and Khodorkovsky's own words, Gibney traces his subject's riveting journey from one of the richest men in Russia (via shady business deals in the oil industry as Russia transitioned to a free-market economy) to spending nearly a decade in a Siberian prison for fraud. After his release, Khodorkovsky fled his homeland and turned political dissident but, as the film makes frighteningly clear with a look at the Salisbury poisoning and the death of Alexander Litvinenko, it seems Putin's enemies aren't safe, even in exile.

The hook here is Khodorkovsky himself, who claims that his time in prison fundamentally changed him and that he's now fighting the good fight with his work for Open Russia, a human rights organisation dedicated to establishing free and fair elections. In practice, that means the film lacks a satisfying ending, since Putin clearly isn't going anywhere soon, but Khodorkovsky's steadfast conviction that this will eventually change ('Maybe five years, maybe ten,' he says) at least allows for an optimistic closing note.

Limited release from Fri 13 Dec.

Citizen K

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • UK, US
  • 2h 8min
  • Directed by: Alex Gibney

Documentary about oligarch-turned-agitator Mikhail Khodorkovsky, tracing his journey from one of the richest men in Russia to spending nearly ten years in a Siberian prison for fraud. A dizzying, roller-coaster ride of a film that grips like a political thriller and leaves the audience to make up its own mind.

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