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‘The Putin Interviews’ review: Oliver Stone humanizes Russia’s Vladimir Putin

Russia President Vladimir Putin during his interviews with

Russia President Vladimir Putin during his interviews with American screenwriter, director and producer Oliver Stone. Credit: Showtime / Komandir

THE SERIES “The Putin Interviews”

WHEN | WHERE Monday through Thursday at 9 p.m. on Showtime


WHAT IT’S ABOUT Oliver Stone conducted about a dozen interviews with Russian President Vladimir Putin between 2015 and February 2017 for this four-hour film. According to Showtime, this is the most extensive interview Putin has ever conducted with a Westerner. Topics covered: U.S.-Russia relations mostly, while cybersleuthing comes up halfway through Tuesday’s hour. Showtime only screened the first two hours for critics.

MY SAY “The Putin Interviews” is fascinating, and probably couldn’t be otherwise. On one side of the table — looking rumpled, bleary-eyed, professorial — is a three-time Oscar winner and household-name director. To his critics, he’s a contrarian, and to the caustic ones, a fabulist. To his fans, he’s a truth-teller, a Cassandra. On the other side of the table sits another household name, albeit for somewhat different reasons. He has his critics, too.

Both are complicated men with complicated motives for the interview. What could those be?

They are unstated, but Stone always leave an easy trail of crumbs to follow. As a speaker this past February at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s annual lecture on humanity’s future, Stone said this: “The so-called liberal [media] elites are attacking [President Trump] with ridiculous articles, ridiculous accusations. Our mainstream media has turned up the flame on Russia, so they are they stupid ones. They are doing great damage to the body of this country.”

And so — caveat emptor — this is your guide through the complex world, and mind, of Vladimir Putin over the next four hours. During an extraordinary career, Stone has never pretended to be an unbiased journalist — or journalist, period — and he’s not about to feign pretense now. These two are occasionally so collegial that the only props missing are a couple of steins of beer. His questions tend to be discursive — rambling is the less kind word — and his stray observations eccentric. (“The United States has never really had a war on its own homeland.”) Stone screens “Dr. Strangelove” for Putin. (He reacts impassively.)

Like NBC’s Megyn Kelly in her Putin interview on June 4, not once does Stone push back, or harsh the mellow with phrases like “the facts say otherwise,” or “Hey, what about those human rights violations, Vlad?” Critics are never heard from, and scarcely acknowledged.

As journalism, this is scattershot at best, but as a conversation that covers a vast span of Russian history, culture, and politics as refracted through the mind of Russia’s president — it’s often remarkable. Putin has a lot to say. Stone lets him say it. While the many points he makes are impossible to summarize here, Putin’s motives for this interview are not: He emerges as an intelligent, sane, reasonable leader caught in the vortex of an occasionally feckless, often contradictory superpower called the United States. Touché.

Naturally, you’d like to know when all of this gets around to the topic of the 2016 election. At the end of the second hour, Putin says: “Unlike many of our partners, we never interfere within the domestic affairs of other countries.”

I can hardly wait for the next two hours.

BOTTOM LINE Stone humanizes the boogeyman of the 2016 U.S. election in this fascinating, rambling, and sporadically invaluable exercise. Best not come looking for balance or journalism, though.

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