Vodka and Voting, Through American Eyes
Marc David Miller | New York, USA | 07/30/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Released in the US at the time of another Russian Presidential election, "Spinning Boris", is a humorous, fact-based dramatization of the 1996 Russian Presidential election, directed by Roger Spottiswoode (who also directed the Bond film, "Tomorrow Never Dies," and the bio-pic "Noriega: God's Favorite").
The first post-Soviet election in Russia pitted Boris Yeltsin, a man once considered a hero but now, after five years of attempted coups, hyperinflation, and war in Chechnya, has lower approval ratings than Stalin, against political opponents ranging from kooky (the xenophobic Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who wants to retake Alaska), to Communist (Gennady Zyuganov, who vows to restore the Soviet Union). In Yeltsin's view (and that of some powerful forces on both sides of the Atlantic) the future of Russia is at stake: do people want to live with the challenges and opportunities of free choice, or fall back to the failed Communist system (along with newly wealthy oligarchs losing their power).
How can a candidate be "guaranteed" victory in a democracy? Hire the best political advisors money can buy, in this case George Gorton (Jeff Goldblum), Dick Dresner (Anthony LaPaglia), and Joe Shumate (Liev Schreiber, playing a more open operative than in his last Russian adventure, "The Sum of All Fears," and proving himself a master in the political movies genre).
The three American political consultants (one of whom, Gorton, recently led Arnold Schwarzenegger's successful gubernatorial campaign) are masters at showing how politics can be manipulated, or fine tuned. "Spinning Boris" shows the idealism and naivete of Russia's fledging democracy in 1996, primarily through the eyes of his daughter, Tatiana Dyachenko (played by the sensuously dignified Svetlana Efremova, known to political drama junkies through an appearance as a Russian journalist in "The West Wing").
The main difference between history and the plot of this film is that the script overplays the political naivete of Russians far too much. After all, it was Yeltsin's main opponent, the Communist Zyuganov, who said in 1995, "You should understand that a clever propaganda worker and a skilled politician will never talk in the same language with different audiences." If the Soviet era proved anything, it is that Russians are masters at telling an audience what it wants to hear. The movie does prove that Americans are good at reviving a stale product, in this case a Presidential candidate, Yeltsin, who offers a clear (and clearly superior) alternative to his opponents, men who reach back into the "ash heap of history" for their political platform.
"Spinning Boris" perpetuates some negative stereotypes about Russia. For instance: the President Hotel is not 5-Star quality; people did not walk around with machine guns in 1996; the SOVIET national anthem was not in use during the Yeltsin era; and why did the Americans sing the "Internationale," the song of world Communism, as they leave Moscow? There are, however, some wonderful street scenes throughout the entire movie, and the cinematography manages to capture some of the exoticness and beauty of Moscow, the world's most unique city (although most of the interior shots were filmed in Toronto).
It is great to have a dramatization of what is for Americans an obscure political event, but one that had far-reaching repercussions. Movies are often the only way that a historic event is remembered; by their nature a political drama will be abridged and truncated (this is true of documentaries as well). Hopefully people watching this movie won't believe that today's Russia is as close to the brink of collapse as it is depicted here. Like "Primary Colors," the movie (and novel) which gave great understanding into the 1992 Clinton campaign, "Spinning Boris" gives humorous insight into the Russian political scene during its early democratic years."
Surprising little Gem
goldentoaster | Los Angeles, California | 07/06/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It was a dull day at my house when we had to trudge over to the neighbors' to see if they had any good movies to watch. I don't know where they found this flick; I had never heard of it and I couldn't find much about it online. I was initially put off by the title. But don't judge a book by its cover. If you ever get the opportunity to see this little gem, do yourself a favor and get right on it.
A quick synopsis: In the 1996 election in Russia, American campaign managers are secretly hired by Russians to help President Yeltzin's re-election. So its based on a true story.
The movie is very witty and smart, even dealing with serious subject matter. The whole film has an appropriately uneasy tone to it. The movie takes a little while to establish itself but after it does, it is expertly paced. For a historical movie spread out over several months, pacing is key, and Spinning Boris nails it.
The three leads, Jeff Goldblum, Anthony LaPaglia, and Liev Schreiber are amazing, they play off each other very well. The viewer really gets that sense that the characters have been buddies long before the events of the movie. I especially enjoyed Goldblum's performance, for the style and wit he brings to the otherwise tense Russian setting.
The fact that the plot is so secretive to begin with and hesitant to unravel makes the film intriguing to watch. The plot would be impossible to believe if it weren't true. But it comes off as very authentic, lending this movie an undeniable charm. I whole-heartedly recommend you see this movie."