In August of 2020, Vladimir Putin looked like he had a serious contender for the Russian Presidency in opposition candidate Alexei Navalny. Increasingly large crowds had been turning out for his appearances and he had built up a massive audience on social media apps like YouTube and VKontakte, which were the only places he was able to campaign due to the government having banned him from virtually all other media. While Putin wouldn’t bring himself to mention Navalny by name, he was acutely aware of the threat he posed, and so it was that when Alexei suffered a poison attack while on a flight from Tomsky to Moscow suspicion immediately fell onto the despot.
Luckily for Alexei, and less so for whoever had poisoned him, he managed to survive, after a monumental fight on the behalf of his wife Yulia to get him transferred from a Soviet hospital, where he was locked away under strict guard, to a facility in Germany. As he recovered, he and his wife teamed up with a journalist from Bellingcat named Christo Grozev, and ultimately a few others from CNN and Der Spiegel to determine who tried to poison him, how they did it, and where the orders had come from.
Watching this all play out in director Daniel Roher’s documentary, it often feels like the plot of a convoluted and somewhat improbable spy thriller, something the people involved often mention. But it’s all real, and completely riveting, even for those who watch and read enough news to already know how it ends. Seeing the details of the investigation makes for fascinating watching, as does the look into just how severe and corrupt the Putin regime really is. This peek into modern Russian governance only makes the attack on Ukraine seem more alarming (and less surprising). Navalny himself is a charismatic character who is always engaging to watch. Many Americans would likely take issue with some of his past actions and his responses when questioned about them, but it’s still hard to think that Russia, Ukraine, and the rest of the world would be at least a little better off if he were running the country right now. It’s a shame that we’ll probably never get a chance to find out. ★★★★★
rated r for some language.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor