#13 - JRL 7265
July 25, 2003
Desson Howe, Washington Post Staff Writer
WHEN Mikhail Gorbachev advocates a freer society in the Soviet Union, Plato Makovski's destiny is set. With four college friends to help, he takes steps to become a successful businessman. In less than 20 years, he becomes the richest man in post-Soviet Russia, but he reaches the top in the sleaziest of ways: working with gangsters, ducking from the government, even ordering contract killings.
Although "Tycoon: A New Russian" ("Oligarkh") is fiction, it's parenthetically about a real person: The movie, Russia's biggest homegrown box office hit, is based on Yuly Dubov's novel "Bolshaya Paika," about Boris Berezovsky, a billionaire whose rise to riches was checkered at best.
It's an intriguing notion, a sort of Russian "Citizen Kane" and "The Godfather," a saga of a sleazy prince named Plato whose criminal rise and fall embodies the new Russia; who is, at once, the country's great potential and its moral downfall. The story even starts with a cliffhanger: supposedly the eve of the assassination of Plato (Vladimir Mashkov). After Plato's demise, an ethical investigator named Chmakov (Andrei Krasko) leads an inquiry to discover those behind the assault, namely Plato's long list of enemies.
There is hardly a moment when this film's ambitious premise bears fruit. Pavel Lounguine's movie is, simply put, difficult to follow. Clearly, Plato (and by extension, Berezovsky) has done many terrible things. He appears to have annoyed just about everyone at least part of the time, including close friends, old-guard Communists, union members, politicians and the secret service. But the movie covers too much ground with too little detail. It manages to be convoluted, complicated, incomprehensible and maddeningly thin all at the same time.
Lounguine, evidently trying to be compelling, makes a lot of narrative leaps backward and forward in time. Sometimes you're 15 years in the past, or three months, or a few days ahead, and so on, until you stop trying to figure out where you are. But nothing emerges, no clear picture of the tycoon around whom this whole thing is set.
What is it about Plato that is so charismatic and corrupt? What drives him? Lounguine appears to resolve these questions (in his own mind, at least) by simply casting one of Russia's beloved stars (Mashkov) in the role. But why we should care about this character, apart from the nice chiseling God gave his features, is maddeningly unclear. There are too many narrative ellipses (including any all-important character development) for this movie to reach many people without an intimate understanding of the real story, and that's a different kind of white-collar crime.
TYCOON: A NEW RUSSIAN (Unrated, 128 minutes) -- Contains nudity, sex scenes, violence and obscenity. In Russian with subtitles. At Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge.