Spinning Boris (2003) Poster

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Vodka and Voting, Through American Eyes
MDM-412 March 2004
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.
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Strange truth as fiction
Melissa Smith16 October 2004
I was watching the election returns in my friends' apartment in St. Petersburg on June 16, 1996, and thus had seen the documentary footage in this film first-hand. Watching "Spinning Boris" on DVD, I did not suspect that it was based on reality rather than conjecture until I watched the interviews with the political consultants on whom it is based. It is a tribute to the writers that the film came off as incredible fiction. Very enjoyable. The dialogue is very clever among the Americans (in the good old "buddy movie" tradition) , and I was impressed at the texture of the Russian setting, all the while not believing the story line. (I recall less dire numbers in the polls, although my Russian friends were very worried about a possible return to Communism).

Apparently, though, I found more humor in the film's situations than I really should have, considering it was based on fact. I regret that this film did not get broader press coverage, for it is as relevant to the current situation in American politics as to the Russian events it portrays.
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FilmDome3 April 2003
Caught "Spinning Boris" at a preview screening -- and... WOW... This is the best, funniest, sharpest, and meanest movie I've seen in a long time... well, since "Wag the Dog". It also brings to mind "Network" and "Dr. Strangelove" - yes, it's THAT good. The cast is top-notch -- Goldblum, LaPaglia, Shrieber, as three American political consultants in Russia -- create amazing chemistry. Three musketeers, three stooges, three blind mice, three charismatic, brilliant, but incredibly self-involved and self-serving individuals. The script is pure perfection -- witty and clever beyond belief, suspenseful, complex and very, very dark. The director is Roger Spottiswoode (yes, Bond... James Bond) -- here working in a completely different genre... and succeeding on all levels. The film is a 10, to be sure, but it's more than that. A not-to-be-missed movie event. (I understand it was produced by Showtime and will premier on cable. Here's to hoping they promote the hell out of it.) Can't wait to see it again.
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Most authentic portrayal of (New) Russians by any American film
anarmyofone14 January 2005
From the biznessmen to the government officials, even the hotel lounge's Elvis impersonator, the dialogue, spoken language, actors, character portrayals and cultural depictions are so authentically Russian, it's frightening. And hilarious. Which makes it all the more difficult to believe this a product of American cinema, which seems to prefer perpetuating tired and/or exaggerated Russian stereotypes (whether due to ignorance or apathy is still open to debate). Anthropologically speaking, this film's a bull's-eye; historically, who knows? High production values (including stock footage from the actual campaign -- see Yeltsin dance!), quality casting and genuine humor make for good times. More so if you know Russia(n), less so, perhaps, if you don't. I'm recommending it to friends, and I'd watch it again. Na zdoroviye.
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Watch out Elvis, and watch out for that mine-shaft gap!
janet-5517 January 2006
I resisted seeing this movie for some time. Not sure why - probably because the title put me off. However it is one of the funniest, sharpest movies I have seen in many a year and I have to agree with "Filmdome" that it has something of "Dr Strangelove" about it. The notion that three American political consultants could go over to Russia and successfully assist Boris Yeltsin to win the 1996 election would be ludicrous if it weren't for the fact that it is true! The three protagonists Jeff Goldblum (George), Anthony LaPaglia (Dick) and Liev Schreiber(Joe) have great on-screen rapport and charisma which only serves to heighten the manic atmosphere and paranoia of the piece. The notion that they can't trust anyone pervades the film giving this satire an added dimension; all their most private thoughts and plans have to be expressed on the balcony to their apartment. Even the CIA have them bugged. Their only respite appears to be in the bar at the hotel where a rather bad Russian Elvis Presley impersonator befriends them and offers invaluable information as to the Russian psyche. The film is interspersed with genuine footage from the campaign, plus Yeltsin's bizarre dancing episode which I'm sure any of you out there with long memories must remember as it was one of the most surreal bouts of electioneering ever to have been televised! Naturally George, Dick and Joe are equally unimpressed. Goldblum is touching in his gentle and restrained romancing of Tatiana (Yeltsin's daughter)though I suspect that in reality this did not happen. Dick turning blue in a snowstorm on the tarmac at the airport and barricading the door to their apartment on election night while Joe hides under his jacket, and the musical car journey back to the airport at the end of the film are just a hint at the great moments in this very good movie.
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not based on the true events
vlados20023 March 2008
When you read the comment on this film, that it's smart and funny political comedy based on true events - the only true word here is that it's a comedy. If you're told it's insider movie about Russian politics - it's not. There's probably only 2% in the movie from what really happened in Russia during that election-campaign. In reality of the 1996 it was thousand times more interesting to follow the situation and that was a real funky election-campaign. Well, there were PR-advisers from the US working in the Yeltsin's staff, but their role was just minimal. The whole campaign was totally different from what is shown in the movie, it would be much funnier showing all the president's people riding across the country with paper boxes full of cash, and the celebrities giving the shows to support Yeltsin all over the place - at least that would be true. I give it three only because of the respect to Jeff Goldblum, Antony LaPagglia, and Liev Schreiber. And about the machine guns on the streets of Moscow. I was living in the place that had the highest amount of hard crime in Russia in the middle of 90-s and never seen a man with the gun on the street.
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dbborroughs31 March 2004
Three American campaign advisers go to Russia to help Yeltsin win the election and a good time was had by viewers.

This is the true story of three guys who went to Moscow to win an election and did so despite death threats (from the people who wanted Yeltsin elected but feared he'd lose- don't ask) and being watched by everyone in the country and outside it.

The real pleasure here is the trio of actors playing the leads, Jeff Goldblum, Anthony LaPaglia and Liev Schreiber who work together like a well oiled machine and seem to be having such a grand time you can't help but watch it and enjoy it. They play it like three long time friends who know each other like the back of their own hands and spread the sense of fun and good times, even in the bad times, so neatly it rolls right off the screen. You don't care what the film is about so long as you get to watch them interacting. This would be a perfectly charming film if it was more interesting to look at, its mostly in hotel rooms that all look the same, with the odd trip to the balcony to speak where no one can over hear. They could also have used a woman as Yeltsin's daughter who is a lovely as the real thing, but those minor quibbles. That said its a joy to behold and highly recommended. 9/10
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Smart and Clever Insider Political Comedy
chrlrhoads4 March 2004
This film is a riot! It is like a political comedy version of "THE WIZARD OF OZ." Only here, Jeff Goldblum is the metaphorical scarecrow,Anthony LaPaglia, the cowardly lion and Liev Shreiber is like the tinman...leading the Russian President Boris Yetzin's daughter (who is like Dorothy) played Svetlana Efremova...through the OZ of political consulting and campaign winning. Boris Krutonog and Gregory Hlady add the proper intrigue and menace to make even those of us who read the original Time Magazine cover story about the real incident...wonder how it will all turn out.It is funny, charming, and truly suspenseful. The trio of actors playing the "fish out of water" American political consultants play off one another beautifully and with the charisma and wit of a real life Hope and Crosby road picture!
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jacksflicks19 March 2004
Can't believe I haven't caught this flick until now. Glad the Europeans seem to like it (except one, but he doesn't like anything).

Spinning Boris certainly rates a higher score than 7. The production values - photography, sets, locations, sound - are faultless, as are the pacing, the length, the script, the casting and the direction. And believe me, I was watching for gaffs.

It's been a long time since I've laughed out loud so many times in a movie. Of course, it's impossible not to be amused by Jeff Goldblum - even when he's serious, he's possessed of an irresistible archness. And I never tired of Anthony LaPaglia and Liev Schreiber, with their quick shifts between resourcefulness and panic.

It's difficult to say which of the plot points take dramatic license and which are documentary, because the whole story is believable. I don't think the Russians are patronized nor the Americans built up - they all have their virtues and foibles. In fact, the story makes it plain that it is the Americans who are introducing guile into the process on the (ironically Leninist) thesis that the ends justify the means.

I should liked to have seen if the little flirtation between Goldblum and Tatiana led to anything. Likewise, I should like to have known the other characters better: Felix, the go-between, who had a touching moment pondering the fate of World War II veterans selling their medals to make ends meet; Lugov, the mysterious Mafioso; and the Elvis impersonator who became a drinking buddy. And, of course, Tatiana, Yeltsin's daughter, who rates her own biopic. Lots of potential spinoffs here.

Can't wait for the video!
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Spinning Boris-To Russia With Democracy ***
edwagreen28 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
We have a very good plot here when 3 presidential consultants in campaign making are enlisted to go to Russia and work on the campaign of candidate Boris Yeltsin.

We see that because the Russians are so unfamiliar with democracy, ideas of dirty tricks, campaigning with a message, negative campaigning, kissing babies, etc. is all literally foreign to them.

The problem with the potentially good film is with the actors here. Jeff Goldblum, Anthony La Paglia and Liev Schrieber really don't allow their characters to develop and frankly all three are unusually dull. Luckily, it's the story-line in this film that carries it through somewhat.

The movie does turn a little dramatic after being comical for the first part. Again, it is the Russian inexperience with democracy that really comes through here. Cancel an election? Surprising concept, but easy for the Russians to understand.

Of course, by film's end, the Russians have learned to play the political game.
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Surprising little gem
wafflehouse915 July 2009
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.
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Based on Actual Events...Yet Still Fun
Elswet8 April 2008
I own this mainly because of Jeff Goldblum, so I wasn't expecting much in the way of real entertainment, but was more or less watching this for Mr. Goldblum's performance. I think he's one of the best actors in the business. I did not discover until after the fact that this film was based on actual events, and I had to go watch it again.

Aside from beautiful performances by all three principals, the story itself has a wonderful flow, which works brilliantly with the material and weaves a highly enjoyable experience.

This is an entertaining experience, but it also shows how desperate the Russians were to do something better for themselves, in spite of communist influences still in place. It also allows us a small peek into the corrupt offices of our own politicians...we already know they will do anything to get elected. This just proves those suspicions and marks them as "well known" and "public knowledge."

On a side note, I found this information here at IMDb and paraphrased it for those of you who are interested. "While the film portrays all three of the men in Russia during the whole campaign, our three consultants (Gorton-Goldlum, Dresner-LaPaglia, and Shumate-Shreiber) were in truth flying in and out over those five months, or so. They left one person in the US as a security precaution to ensure that the other two could leave when desired, and one younger member was left in Russia the whole time. Oddly enough, he was omitted from the movie. It was his notes they used to draft a screenplay, by the way.

The hotel portrayed in the movie was the "President Hotel," known as the "Oktiabraskaya" during Soviet Times. Each room in this hotel was equipped with gas masks, and the hotel compound was rumored to be secretly linked to the Moscow metro system for occupants to escape or guards and extra security to arrive. After the Yeltsin campaign, Gorton went on to be Arnold Schwarzenegger's political consultant, running Arnold's first campaign.

The furniture-stacking scene is something that really happened, and happened more than once. The consultants' paranoia is well founded. During the 1996 election cycle in Russia, the campaign manager for the mayor of St. Petersburg had acid thrown in his face, and the running mate for the mayor of Moscow was critically injured in a car bomb." As I said, those words were paraphrased, but they may allow you a little behind the scenes knowledge as to the origins of this movie. Insider info like that tends to help me embrace the work more. Hope it does the same for you.

All in all? It's not Friday/Saturday night viewing material by any means, but it IS better than a rainy Sunday's tedium relief.

It rates a 7.9/10 from...

the Fiend :.
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Spinning History
j-bouwmeester29 September 2003
This is a nice political comedy. Three American election-consultants are hired to help Boris Jeltsin to win Russia's first free election. Jeltsin's daughter is the campaign leader and speaks for her father. Though the three consultants never meet Jeltsin in person, this gap is nicely filled with archive material of the real election campaign in 1996. The movie begins with the statement 'based on a truth story'. I strongly doubt this story is authentic, but it is plausible though.

Jeff Goldblum is the real star in this movie and some non-hollywood details, like the fact that some Russians don't speak English (so there is a lot of Russian language in the movie), are very nice and make this movie an above-average one. Watch it if you like satire and are not afraid of politics!
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Wag the dog, Moscow-style
lisaabacon7 May 2004
It's funny enough as a 'what if?' scenario. But knowing that this movie is based on a true story makes it much more interesting and fun. Three seasoned political consultants accept the job of getting Boris Yeltsin re-elected. Obviously, they find that things work a little differently in Russia. At times, it seemed there was the inclination to go a little over the top (both in plot and in performance), but Goldblum, LaPaglia and Schreiber manage to keep it within bounds most of the time. Cut-ins of actual footage of the before-and-after candidate on the stump balance the falseness of the zany factor. Flaks and reporters will enjoy this film. So will anyone who takes politics seriously.
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reality is worse
janeiz4 August 2005
OK everybody is so enthused by this film I hardly dare add a negative review but I just did not enjoy this movie.

I have to say first I saw the film in Russian language overdub so I will have missed some dialog, but not much.

Nice things first. There are some hilarious moments (the Elvis impersonator for instance). Actors seem well casted, also the Russians. Efremova is great and Goldblum is very good. Which brings us to the downsides of this movie. First of all. There is hardly any story and the end we know already: Yeltsin wins. So no drama or suspense. They tried to solve this problem with an emerging affair between the actors mentioned above, but that story kind of evaporates.

More importantly, the film does not represent reality. The Russians at the level of politics and society portrayed in this movie are not funny, they are a serious and dangerous lot. I am willing to believe that flying in some spin-doctors from the states helped Yeltsin win his campaign, but the real interesting questions that should be addressed are: who financed the campaign, what did they get in return, how was the opposition handled apart from airing some commercials?

So what we have here is a film, loosely based on reality (but strangely avoiding anything that could make the film either historically relevant or just a very good political thriller) without plot or subplot.
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The Jeff Goldblum story, great film - no credit
David Igra9 July 2005
This is a pretty good film, informative and exciting. Good acting from among others Jeff Goldblum who does what he does best. Which is really good movies without getting any serious credit for it. I don't know how he constantly manages to find these great roles that he's anything from good to brilliant in, without getting his credit due. Someone should write an excellent script, just for Jeff so he can finally get the limelight focused on him for a good while!

Anyone who likes a good political drama will enjoy this well made film about the first elections in Russia. Supposedly, it's based on a true story and knowing Russians as well as I do, it very well could be entirely true.

It is definitely worth a whole lot more acknowledgement than it has gotten thus far.
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What Democracy is all about?
Hungry Penguin21 May 2005
The fall of the Soviet Union was the most meaningful, and doubtless the vividest, sign that the people of the world were ready to abandon all forms of tyranny for good. There are those critical moments in history, when, like a delicate chemical reaction, the world stand in the same time on the verge of extinction and on the tallest ramp. And each time, it's up to a few good men to make sure that this chemical reaction evolves in the right direction, that it chooses to rise instead of fall.

This is the story of three men who unknowingly defined the future of the world. We, humanity, could have gone back to communism and tyranny and war, or we could progress to democracy and globalism. The 1996 election was a critical moment of choosing, and thanks to these men the right right choice was made.

This great event demanded a film, and Spinning Boris is the result. Is it any good? Yep. It is fun? Yep. Is it interesting? Yep. Intelligent? Well-acted? Yep and yep.

A better film can be made no doubt, but this one is already well worth watching.
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The brilliance of being credible
henrikc1 January 2004
Caught this one on New Years eve, and was fortunate to hang on to it. I wasn't sure if it was somehow documentary or not - and the beauty of it is that it doesn't matter :)

This movie is credible from the first to the last minute. It's creepy because this could be entirely true - and we'll probably never know.

The American spindoctors playing dirty? I don't think they are, they're not having anyone arrested or killed or anything, they're introducing western style campaigns to the Russians for the first time, and the playing field is wide open. It's not unlike how Tony Blair gets promoted, nothing unusual about this. Interesting to see how getting out to people to listen to their concerns plays a large role, as does digging up what the communists are up to - that's how it should be. The Americans happen to find themselves in a pivotal (to say the least) election, and they're hired (several times :) to the job. Suddenly these three find themselves spearheading the fight for democracy vs. regression, and they happen to do a good job with everything at stake. People happen to land in essential situations once in a while where a little effort can make a huge difference.

I hope it turns out to be largely a true story. Anyone checked up that Time issue, BTW?
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Message to all disbelievers
Brabo26 December 2003
To those who missed the credits in Spinning Boris : read the original story as filed by Moscow correspondent Michael Kramer in Time magazine's issue dated July 15, 1996. This is no fiction but documented fact and that is why the scenario rings true. End of speculative discussion.
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Jesper Engsted18 January 2004
The creators of this movie must have sat down one day and said "let's make fun of the Russians and at the same time show people how advanced we (Americans) are". The movie portrays the Russians as an inferior people who are unable to understand the brilliant ideas put forward by the Americans. It is true that American campaigns are probably more professional and more based on expensive studies than campaigns in any other countries are. However, this movie goes to far and it exaggerates the differences between East and West. To me it looked like a propaganda movie made during the Cold War.
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Satire, documentary, or both ?
Brabo20 August 2003
There is a french saying, "la réalité dépasse la fiction", truth beats fiction. Think about it. The reason why Spinning Boris rings so true, including seemingly trivial details, is that things can happen this way - I know from personal experience with both politics and Eastern Europe. Nobody would be foolish enough to present this movie as a documentary (and by the way, why wait until Yeltsin was completely out of the picture ?), but insiders will wink at each other. Remember Primary Colors - and think about it.
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dont watch this trash.
moni19 July 2004
No matter what frecking dumb propaganda movie is broadcasted there will be smart americans who would think this movie is great. This is exactly the case. Dudes dont get me wrong - why dontya make a movie about how Dubya was elected? I am expecting this :) hip hip hooray :)

But dont watch this trash.

Save your money for quality movies
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almost better then wag the dog
Kamrat_Alstrom20 September 2003
I really liked this movie, it shows what happens behind the political sceen in many elections and many countries. All though the elections most likely are not this corrupt in many countries it really gives you something to think about. I also think that it shows how politicians become like prostitutes in elections were there are very little real understanding among the people for the different ideologis represented in the election. Spinning Boris really shows how politicians have to be populists to become elected. Great movie!
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Don't miss this one
anaconartist4 September 2003
"Spinning Boris" (aka "The Yeltsin Project") is a modern masterpiece. Political satire doesn't get better than this. But don't expect mindless entertainment -- this movie is for people who like to think for themselves, and think they will. Jokes, ideas, references, and body blows come at you, fast and furious, so don't blink. And you'll probably have to see it again, to get all the subtleties and hidden gems. 10 out of 10.
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Ya think?
George Parker30 March 2004
"Spinning Boris" tells a tall tale of three American political campaign consultants who are retained by the Russians to help an ill, oft intoxicated, and very unpopular Boris Yeltsin win Russia's first post-Cold War democratic election. What you'll get is lots of snappy patter as the culturally challenged Goldblum, Schreiber, and La Paglia try against all odds to spin Yeltsin with the help of his daughter and a meager cast of characters. What you won't see is anyone standing in for Yeltsin or anything really Russian save some file footage and postcard shots of Moscow. An obviously contrived but cleverly wrought dialogue-intensive synthesis about a hapless trio of election engineers out of their element, "Spinning Boris" conjures humor and heart which should appeal most to those into political comedy/dramedy. (B)
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