“Tycoon” wants to be a Russian version of “Citizen Kane,” but it’s more like “Mr. Arkadin” (aka “Confidential Report”), Orson Welles’s 1955 near self-parody of his 1941 masterpiece. Though it enjoys some topical interest by reason of its thematic connection to the recent jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the last of the Yelstin-era business giants, by the Kremlin (the script is actually based on the earlier ousting of mega-rich Boris Berezovsky, who remains in exile), the picture proves to be of more academic than cinematic interest.
The focus of the piece is Plato Makovski (Vladimir Mashkov), a wealthy entrepreneur whom we first see being expelled from his plush skyscraper offices and then apparently assassinated in an attack on his limousine. In a highly fragmented narrative structured in the form of the official investigation of the murder and filled with flashbacks, abrupt surprises and sidebars on official corruption, the film then takes us through Plato’s career, showing how the young academician used his analytical genius (and his ability to make connections with the criminal and political worlds, which–as it happens–often overlap in the New Russia) to fashion a hugely powerful business empire, and how his success drew the ire and greedy attention of old-style elements within the government. The picture also deals, though in a much more tangential fashion, with Plato’s personal life, particularly his relationship with Maria (Maria Miranova), a woman with whom he has an affair early on, later learning that a child resulted from the event.
There’s much that’s interesting in “Tycoon.” Mashkov draws a skillful portrait of Makovski, making the fellow–especially early on–an amusingly ambitious, quick-witted type. In the more contemporary scenes, the character is rather less interesting–a typically steely and brooding power-broker. But overall the film never delves very deeply into his motives or aspirations, remaining content to offer a largely surface view. (The same thing could be said of Kane, of course–but in that case the mystery of personality was central to the plot, which is hardly the case here; there’s no special revelation on tap in “Tycoon,” even one as rudimentary as the meaning of “Rosebud.”) And while many of the figures surrounding Makovski–the gruff, honest investigator Chmakov (Andrei Krasko), the corrupt justice minister Koretski (Alexandre Baluev), the pudgy populist governor Lomov (Vladimir Goussav) whom he supports for the presidency–are interesting, none of them are particularly well fleshed out; nor are his partners Viktor (Sergei Oshkevich), Moussa (Alexandre Samoilenko), Mark (Mikael Vesserbaum) and Larry (Levani Uchaineshvili) much more than sketched. (Ahmet, an elderly mob boss with whom he enters an alliance, is more distinctive a figure as portrayed by Vladimir Golovin, but the character remains pretty much a stock one.)
The absence of any real psychological depth, due at least partially to the complicated, puzzle-like construction, ultimately proves the film’s undoing. As a sort of abbreviated, simplified history lesson, “Tycoon” is moderately intriguing; but as a would-be epic encapsulating the recent history of Russia through fact-based fiction, it’s hardly up to the standard of–for example–the “Godfather” series. Technically, too, the film is little more than adequate; it has a grubby, vaguely documentary look, lacking any real sense of style.
The result is a film of modest accomplishment and equally modest interest.