March 6, 2008, Viktor Bout is in a boardroom meeting in Thailand discussing weapons he could supply for an attack on Americans moments later in bust the police, Bout is arrested, caught in an international police sting. Soon after headlines around the world announce that The Merchant of Death has been arrested.
The story shifts back to the mid nineties as Viktor exits the Russian army as a trained language expert looking for work at the time of the break up of the Soviet Union. His first venture is an import export business that brought in goods to Russia from the former Soviet world that were before not available. His next idea, purchase decommissioned cargo planes and ship in consumer goods. Then he happens on his ultimate venture obtaining a fleet of cargo planes then leasing them out for exorbitant amounts to third world countries. Unfortunately for Mr. Bout the countries that are in the market for this type of transportation end to be located in sensitive areas and the cargo they want to move tends to be weapons and other illegal items.
The Notorious Mr. Bout tracks Victor Bout from the late 80's all the way up to his conviction in an American court in 2012. The film makers Tony Gerber and Maxim Pozdrovokin had an abundance of footage as their subject fancied himself as a film maker film everything from his first meeting of his future wife Alla and his 1991 marriage to his business activities and family life in all the countries that he set up shop. Bout shot video using the technology of the time from Brussels to the U.A.E. to several central and southern African hotspots. Viktor daughter is also a signpost to measure time in the film as she first appears moments after her birth. Later she is a little girl in first class when the family leaves South Africa to return to Russia then lastly a young woman at the time of the trial.
The film does not really take sides or show the protagonist involved in any arm sales or strong arm tactics. Instead as Mr. Bout describes it his fleet of cargo planes is no different than a car rental service. He asks if the renter uses the vehicle to commit a crime can the rental company be held liable? In other words he uses the businessman's excuse he is not breaking any laws nor is it his business what's in the back of his plane. His company was just hired to fly this stuff the content is not his companies responsibility.
The directors had an interest in the subject matter for a while before they started shooting the film. Maximum Pozdrovokin did a magazine piece with Alla and Viktor's daughter then began to meet with him in prison to develop the piece. They could not bring cameras in to the prison so they used the prison correspondence to shape the story. Starting with letters on his computer screen to voice over narration for Viktor as he told his story. The directors had 200 hours of home video footage to go through. They wanted to get away from the official story of The Merchant of Death with 6 billion dollars which did not make sense based on how he and his family actually lived.
The Notorious Mr. Bout is a piece forged with the purpose to deconstruct a media driven image. The creation of these villains is an advantage to the U.S. ,Russia and other countries that profit from greatly from the Arms Industry to distract from the fact that they continue to make new product and in order to sell it people like Victor are needed to find a place for the old product to go. The directors did an excellent job in delivering their point.
**** out of 4.
The Notorious Mr. Bout | Tony Gerber & Maxim Pozdrovokin | Russia /U.S.A. | 2014 | 94 Minutes.
Tags: Sting, Arrest, Trial, Video, Military, Transportation, Weapons, New York, Moscow, Congo, South Africa, Import Export, Cargo Planes.