Released: 11th June 2022
Seen: 27th January 2023
On August 20th 2020, Alexei Navalny was flying from Tomsk to Moscow when suddenly he let out a blood-curdling scream. The scream was to get the attention of the flight crew and anyone who might be able to record as Alexei realised something while in midair… Alexei Navalny, a man known as an anti-corruption giant who was running against Vladimir Putin for the job of president of Russia, had been poisoned. The poison would turn out to be a nerve agent known to be used largely by Putin against his enemies and were it not for the flight making an emergency landing in Omsk, Alexei Navalny would have died on that flight. The documentary Navalny looks into not only why this happened, but the shocking aftermath of Navalny’s unexpected survival.
Navalny as a documentary starts carefully by filling in the backstory of Alexei’s work trying to fight corruption in Russia and his run for president, largely via interviews with Alexei who fills us in on everything we could want to know. What’s clear is that this was a film that was seemingly made just to investigate the poisoning, which it does spectacularly but what’s also stunning is that the crew were around when Alexei Navalny was arrested by the Russians and sent to prison on what are quite clearly bogus charges (because almost all charges made against Putin’s enemies are bogus).
Every moment that’s captured in the documentary helps to shine the biggest light possible on one of the most horrific things ever done by Putin and goes into great detail in a way that’s also incredibly easy for anyone to follow. Explaining large political issues like this is often difficult because it requires a ton of context but Navalny has figured out how to ensure you get every detail, from how perilously close Navalny came to dying to the rapidly changing stories of the Russian police and even the wilder elements of the investigation into what happened.
The brilliance of Navalny is how everything is played out for the audience, building the tension and drama while also being willing to take moments to let the more insane elements sink in. When a particularly large revelation about the poisoning is caught on camera, they repeatedly show the reactions of the people around Navalny to make it clear that they know how insane this all sounds, which makes the fact that it’s all real even wilder.
There are times when they will explain an element of what’s happened that sounds so far-fetched that it would be tossed out of any writers’ room, but it all really happened and the film lets that sink in every chance it gets. Even to the point where the people involved will call out how nuts this is. Possibly the most insane sequence is the phone calls to try and find out how the poisoning happened because it reveals the abject stupidity of the evildoers involved. Sure this plan was complicated, but it was also stupid in ways that are indescribable.
Throughout it all there is this overwhelming sense that this isn’t a unique story, the only unique thing is that Navalny survived the attempt on his life and several other people didn’t. Getting to deal with the reality of what Putin does to his enemies and the mental toll that takes on someone is something we as a society need to come to grips with and this documentary makes it very easy to understand the issue better than absolutely anyone.
Navalny is one of the more important documentaries of the year, one that will undoubtedly ruffle a few feathers but will also do some good. It’s a reminder (as though we needed one) of just how desperate and evil Putin is and what’s been happening to those who have stood up to him, it also will hopefully keep Alexei Navalny in people’s minds long enough to grant him protection from another assassination attempt. It’s an absolute must-watch film that will have you horrified at just what someone with seemingly unlimited power can get away with without consequence… or at least, without consequences so far.