It is almost too easy to make re-titling jokes about Oliver Stone’s rambling and fairly fawning four-night miniseries The Putin Interviews which premieres June 12 on Showtime. Is it better called Natural Born Killer: A Documentary, or To Russia With Love?
Easy laughs aside, sitting in planes, palaces, hockey arenas and more with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Stone knows a thing or two about power and a bit about how to talk to it. However, as I say in my video review above, that doesn’t mean the three-time Oscar-winning director or his well-contained subject matter have much to say from what I’ve seen.
In a dozen interviews with Putin conducted from July 2015 to February 2017, the JFK helmer watches Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove with the ex-KGB agent and talks about the Cuban Missile Crisis and post-Cold War posturing. Eventually, as is teased out in the first two episodes, the discussion comes round to the alleged role Russia played in America’s 2016 Presidential election, hacking and all — though Putin has been pretty steady in denying his government’s involvement.
Airing consecutively next week in what feels like the tail end of Putin’s current media lack-of-charm offensive, the Stone-directed and -hosted extravaganza certainly lacks the deft touch of a Werner Herzog documentary. What it does have is the heavy hand of clunky propaganda, which would be scary were it not so obvious and a bit silly. While Stone doesn’t ask Putin what tree he would be if he were a tree, The Putin Interviews are manicuring in how sycophantic they can be.
If the director of 1995’s Nixon was hoping to have his own version of David Frost’s famous and revealing 1977 Nixon Interviews, the first half of The Putin Interviews stumbles in that ambition, equating access with insight when the two are not the same.
So if you saw Putin’s Say No Evil, Hear No Evil sit-down with Megyn Kelly on Sunday, this may all seem old news. But take a look at my review above; if nothing else, Stone has shown us that the likely most powerful man in the world is far from the most interesting.