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Tribeca Review: “Antidote”

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | June 17th, 2024

Christo Grozev in ANTIDOTE. Courtesy of Passion Pictures @Edgar Dubrovskiy

Antidote (James Jones, 2024) 4 out of 5 stars

The reasons behind Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s rise are not that complicated. The 1990s were a time of extreme economic chaos and deep social anxiety in the dissolved Soviet Union’s republics. For countries on the periphery that had long chafed at Russian domination, dating back to the time of the Tsars, freedom from the Soviet yoke was mostly received with cries of joy. For those inside Russia itself, it was a decidedly mixed blessing, if blessing at all. While Western democracies declared victory in the Cold War, a growing resentment festered among citizens of the once-great superpower. The stage was set for a populist ruler to use that indignation and uncertainty to his advantage.

And so when Boris Yeltsin, champion of those who resisted the 1991 coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, and subsequent Russian president, proved unable to continue (not up to the task, alcoholism, illness, etc.) the job of actual governance, the new oligarchs rallied around a young former KGB officer-turned-politician, Vladimir Putin, to grab the presidential baton in a fairly transparent handoff from the ailing Yeltsin, assuming they could control him. They were … wrong. And the rest is (quite deadly) history.

Christo Grozev in ANTIDOTE. Courtesy of Passion Pictures @Edgar Dubrovskiy

You can see some of the above dramatized in the current Broadway play Patriots, but the facts of real life trump any fictional version. And here we are in 2024 with yet another documentary chronicling another series of violent actions undertaken by the now-long-in-power Putin, a tyrant holding onto the presidency through totalitarian control. This time, the film is Antidote, from British director James Jones (Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes), and the object of Putin’s ire is Bulgarian journalist Christo Grozev, lead Russia investigator with the news site Bellingcat.

Grozev was a principal figure in another nonfiction movie, the 2022 Oscar-winning Navalny, about the late, eponymous opposition leader, one of the many victims of Putin’s thin-skinned quest for absolute dominance. Because of Grozev’s role in embarrassing the Russian regime over its not-so-covert attempts to kill Navalny via poison, he is now, as of December 2022, on Moscow’s “wanted” list. The same murderous techniques he has made a career out of investigating are now put in service of his own attempted assassination.

l-r: Christo Grozev and fellow journalist Eliot Higgins in ANTIDOTE. Courtesy of Passion Pictures @Edgar Dubrovskiy

Antidote follows Grozev on the run, forced to stay in the United States after police in Austria (his and his family’s home) inform him of credible threats to his life. Tragedy strikes when his beloved father stops replying to his messages, and then the worst happens when the man is discovered dead (the cause of his demise remains mysterious). Was the team assigned to kill Grozev trying to force a return to Austria where they might have better access to their target? That’s what Grozev thinks.

And so it goes, with the film also turning its lens on the fate of another jailed opposition figure, Vladimir Kara-Murza, and his wife Evgenia (who lives in America), not to mention other journalists, Russian and otherwise, in Putin’s crosshairs. We gain a real appreciation for the bravery of everyone involved and the bullying cowardice of a dictator who would prefer to eliminate foes rather than answer to the issues they raise. Along the way, we learn quite a lot about the ins and outs of what makes for good reporting, too, a skill long in decline in most media outlets, taken over as they have been by corporate interests.

Evgenia Kara-Murza in ANTIDOTE. Courtesy of Passion Pictures ©Jean-Louis Schuller

If Antidote is not quite as compelling as Navalny, it’s because the subject matter is a little more diffuse. That previous film had the advantage of a built-in three-act structure courtesy of the facts on the ground. Here, Jones has to tinker a bit to craft a complete narrative. Still, his main thesis comes across loud and clear: be afraid, be very afraid; but also, resist at all costs.


Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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