Directed by Daniel Roher | 98 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | Crave
A wildly entertaining doc about the Russian lawyer, activist, and politician Alexei Navalny, who in the summer of 2020 was poisoned with Novichok, the nerve agent preferred by agents of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The film serves as a detailed portrait of Navalny during that time, his recovery in Germany, and what came after.
As the central character in this drama, Navalny cuts quite a figure. He’s charismatic, intelligent and seemingly fearless, a family man with a fondness for both Call of Duty and Rick & Morty.
We meet his wife, Yulia, his two kids, and his team, including his fierce communications manager, Maria Pevchikh, and a man he calls “a nerd with a laptop,” Christo Grozev, a Bulgarian investigator who through data management begins to unpack the failed assassins’ plot to have Navalny killed.
I’m sure there’s more to Navalny that the film doesn’t share. He bristles when reminded of his associations with far-right nationalists earlier in his career, but doesn’t say much about the criminal charges against him, his run for mayor of Moscow, or much else about his earlier political moves. Having seen All The Beauty And The Bloodshed recently, which did a lot to fill out the life details of its incendiary main character, I really wanted more here.
There’s a key moment in this film, one that’s so amazing it’s hard to believe it actually took place. On the day Navalny reveals to the international media what he and his researchers have discovered about the Novichok poisoning, he starts calling the cellphones of the plotters. Pretending to be an assistant of one of them, he gets a chemist talking, one of the men who developed the nerve agent. It’s absurd and terrifying all at once.
One of the things Navalny does especially well is show the broad support this man has through the internet, the evidence of millions of followers who watch his YouTube videos. It forces the question: Why did Alexei Navalny return to Russia? He must have known what would happen when he got there.
He could’ve continued his internet activism from Germany, or anywhere in the West. Now he’s a living martyr being tortured in Russian prisons. Maybe that was his plan all along, but you gotta feel for his family.