What to Watch This Weekend: Navalny

Navalny is a true story of authoritarian opposition. Documentarian Daniel Roher (Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band) follows Russian political activist and presidential candidate Alexei Navalny and his struggles. In particular, Navalny documents the highly suspicious activity related to Navalny’s poisoning that took place in August 2020. Roher’s crew dives deep into the mysterious circumstances that left Navalny in a coma, as they work to unravel just who was behind the act and why.

What works in Navalny is the incredible insight into Alexei Navalny’s plight. Roher accomplishes an impressive amount with his film. First and foremost is how Roher educates people about the current political climate in Russia without ever sounding preachy or inherently biased. Instead, the filmmaker relies on asking a series of excellent questions that either his team researches thoroughly, or they allow those involved to answer directly. Next, Navalny is morbidly engrossing. As the details emerge around the poisoning, the affair turns into a compelling true crime thriller as Navalny works with journalists. Together they attempt to solve a puzzle that no one else seemed interested in addressing.

Finally, Roher finds a way to present his material with equal parts frustration and hope. On one hand, Navalny should raise awareness about the atrocities associated with Putin’s regime and stoke ire. However, Navalny the man is so affable and unflappable it’s hard not to remain somewhat optimistic that because people like him exist, there is always the chance things can improve.

Audiences who don’t enjoy wading into international political waters may not enjoy Navalny as much as others. For many, Russia’s government actions both foreign and domestic are sensitive topics that could illicit a wide range of emotions. Navalny definitely leans into this as a desired outcome and effect. But for some, the exercise may feel somewhat one-sided: Putin, and his regime, are without question presented as the undisputed antagonists. And with all conflicts, there are multiple perspectives and sides—Navalny has chosen its and reports from that point of view.

Navalny is an exceptional film that has rightfully earned a nomination for Best Documentary for the 2023 Academy Awards. The unfiltered access into Navalny—the man who would be president—is refreshingly raw and perhaps offers the greatest inside look into Russian state of affairs to date. Highly recommended.

Recommended if you Enjoyed: Red Army, McMillions

Navalny is available to stream now on HBO Max.

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