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Stranger than Fiction
on March 20, 2005
Tycoon, like The Godfather, may not be strictly accurate, but is in a profound way utterly true. Based not very loosely on the life of Boris Berezovsky, a real-life Russian oligarch who got his start in the car smuggling rackets, the movie depicts the meteoric rise of Platon Markovski, a Jewish mathematics student with an abundance of guts and guile. Markovski puts his considerable charm and ingenuity to work inventing a new breed of capitalism amid the anarchy of 1990s Russia.
Markovski and his loyal band of brothers run afoul of scheming Kremlin bureacrats who want their piece of the capitalist action without leaving the security of their government posts. The battle between the bureaucrats and the oligarch prefigures Vladimir Putin's real-life confrontations with Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other malefactors of great wealth.
The movie is overstuffed with characters and incidents, but Director Pavel Lungin keeps it all pumping furiously forward. Tycoon is a triumph of old fashioned storytelling and, like the Godfather, is filled with small moments of warmth and humor along with operatic drama. As outrageous as the plot turns get, none of it - the hypercreative business deals, the buying of politicians, the wild west shootouts between the state and the capitalists - is stranger than what actually happened in Russia over the past 15 years.
The acting and directing are uniformly excellent. This movie, while remaining true to its gangster tale roots, manages to indict an entire society for losing its ideals and sense of human connection once it discovers the delirious delights of the dollar.