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#13 - JRL 7221
June 13, 2003
movie review
No Scruples, But Plenty of Rubles

(4 STARS) TYCOON: A NEW RUSSIAN (U). Russia's post-Communist turbulence as witnessed through the rise of a Russian billionaire. Pavel Lounguine's tightly constructed saga combines the breaking-headline immediacy of Andrzej Wajda's classic social documents with the headlong rush of a Costa-Gavras political thriller. 2:09 (violence, sexuality, nudity). In Russian with English subtitles. Lincoln Plaza and Quad Cinemas, Manhattan.

The news wafting over from Russia in recent months has been so convulsed with Putin-Bush wrestling matches and horror stories of Chechen suicide bombers that another national drama has been drowned out in the din. It is the economic upheaval and psychic damage wrought by Russian oligarchs, that dominant handful of businessmen who have co-opted the nation's political and media arenas in pursuit of vast personal wealth.

Plato Malakovski, the Russian multi-billionaire profiled in Pavel Lounguine's breathlessly paced "Tycoon," is a fictionalized composite that draws heavily from the career of real-life power broker Boris Berezovsky. A brilliant university student, Malakovski (endowed with an irresistible charisma by the great Russian leading man Vladimir Mashkov) trades in his youthful ideals, conspiring with a small cadre of fellow students to fuse their collective scientific acumen in the service of brash, dubiously legal business schemes.

Structured in the mode of an epic detective thriller, "Tycoon" begins with Malakovski's apparent assassination and then delves back into his past through the classic noir device of a police probe. Ferreting out Malakovski's killers is Chmakov (Andrei Krasko), a rough-and-tumble investigator who comes off as the only incorruptible man in the country's tightly interlocking bureaucratic beehive. Not surprisingly, he has accrued almost as many enemies as the dead man at the center of his probe.

It is Malakovski's friends whom Chmakov has been asked to interrogate, however. "Tycoon" cuts a tricky, non-chronological swath over a 15-year period as Chmakov scouts out this rapidly diminishing inner circle. The portrait that begins to emerge is that of a master persuader and scam artist who trades a pile of brooms into an auto empire, outwitting a thug-driven business infrastructure to become the richest (and, to some, most reviled) man in the nation.

"Tycoon" is as seductive and audacious as its protagonist, whose outrageous manipulations encapsulate the chaos and corruption of Russia's neophyte capitalist economy. "He was a rat charmer, a Pied Piper of Hamelin," says one witness, who concludes, "This is an age of rat charmers." As we watch some of Wall Street's biggest rat charmers have their day in court, "Tycoon" hits home with Cassandra-like prescience.

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