‘Navalny’ – Review

Daniel Roher’s documentary about the attempted assassination of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is a gripping and mind-blowing look into investigative journalism.

Navalny is a documentary that covers the recent events surrounding the assassination attempt of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. While on a flight to Moscow in August 2020, Navalny fell suddenly and critically ill. Upon landing, he was rushed to a Russian hospital where he was placed into a coma, until he was eventually transferred to a hospital in Berlin, where it was determined that the cause of his illness was poisoning from a Novichok nerve agent. While Navanly recovered, all eyes immediately turned to Russian president Vladimir Putin, as allegations began to surface that this assassination attempt may have been helmed by the president himself. 

The film is an investigative journalistic documentary, but it moves at the gripping pace of a political action film. The film sets the story up quickly, briefing the viewer on the backstory quickly, but getting into the crux of the investigation that followed the assassination attempt within 20 minutes of the film. The complexities of the discussions in this film are also immense. Drawing on interviews from Navalny himself, his family, his staff, and Bellingcat investigative journalists Christo Grozev and Maria Pevchikh, who heeded the case against Putin. They, along with Navalny himself, begin to put the pieces together while Navalny recovers in Germany. 

While the documentary shows an intimate and up close look at the opposition leader, it doesn’t refrain from pointing out his flaws as well. The filmmakers ask him to his face at one point about his feelings towards his association with supporters that he shouldn’t take pride in being associated with. In doing so, the documentary showcases the complex and frayed issues among the entire Russian government. 

Watching Grozev and Pevchikh in particular lay out their reasonings for why they believe Putin to be the one behind the poisoning is frankly the main reason to watch the film. Grozev explains step by step how he came to this conclusion with the nonchalance and ease of a chef explaining how to follow a recipe. He ultimately reached out to Navalny via Twitter direct message.

It all comes at an almost impossible to believe tipping point, when Grozev and Pevchikh get Navalny himself to call the men that they believe were behind the actual assassination attempt, and through a prank call, they manage to get a confession. The journalists watch wide-eyed, heads shaking, as the attempted assassin lays out step-by-step how the attempt was made, completely unaware that the intended victim is the one guiding the conversation. It is one of the most mind boggling sequences to watch, to the point where it feels almost fictional. 

Navalny then releases the conversation on social media upon his return to Russia, which leads to a global explosion of questions, as well as the politician’s arrest. What follows is a series of protests and riots over the jailing of Navalny. The documentary ends with an open-ended fate: Navalny faces up to 20 years in jail for releasing the video. 

Overall, Navalny showcases an incredibly complex and corrupt political system that, in the current political climate, feels all too real. But the pacing of the documentary, its approach to the uncovering of what happened, and the gripping intrigue of the mystery of it all make it a worthy watch. 

Grade: A

Oscar Prospects:
Nominated: Best Documentary Feature
Should Have Been Considered: Best Documentary Feature

Where to Watch: HBO Max, VOD

Lex Williams
she/her @alexiswilli_
Lives in NC, where she is on a first name basis with the owners of her favorite pho spot.
Favorite Actress: Angela Bassett
Sign: Capricorn

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