I wasn’t always one for long documentaries – couldn’t stand the stuff. And aside from the occasional six-hour Law and Order: SVU binge, you could say I’m more of a horror film buff. In fact, I’d rather watch in-flight safety videos on loop from Bangkok to Japan before you can tie me down for a crime show. But in walked Havana Marking and Sam Hobkinson’s latest work, The Kleptocrats, to steal my attention, and then I proceeded to eat my hat.
It begins with investigative reporter Louise Story, who starts following the paper trails of the obscure, yet inexplicably rich production company Red Granite Pictures, the same obscure organisation that, ironically, inspired the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street.
Riveting, glamorous, but with much less joy and humour than its Hollywood doppleganger, The Kleptocrats documents the Najib Razak (the former Prime Minister of Malaysia) scandal, something that’s all-too-familiar to Malaysians. We ourselves have had our noses pressed up against the glass of our neighbours’ houses enough to be in-the-know. Complete with red string and pushpin boards, the film follows the classic cop-show archetypes, advancing the story from one lead to the next.
It takes us through excessive parties, shell companies, and a slew of questionable connections. From seemingly harmless artwork belonging to Leonardo DiCaprio, to property trades with Robert De Niro’s son, to the dubious billion-dollar amassment of gems and jewels belonging to Najib and his family. The man at the middle of it all? A rather enigmatic individual: Jho Low, with his hands in a million-dollar cookie jar that is Najib’s 1Malaysia Development Berhad state fund.
He befriended, bedazzled, and beguiled his way up the ladder of success, propelling himself from humble beginnings to rolling in ill-gotten gains. Well, up until his page-two-worthy exposés appeared in newspapers all over, anyway. At this very moment, he’s still very much at large and very much hidden from the authorities. So technically, we’re living through this historic political scandal as we speak. Exciting times!
If you’re one for films about large-scale corruption and crime, with a little sensationalism thrown in the mix to keep your eyes open, The Kleptocrats needs to be on your watchlist. I particularly enjoyed the part where a very irritated De Niro engages in a phone call with Hollywood reporter Alex Ritman in a manner that I can only describe as classic New York attitude. This a good foot in the door if you want to get in the habit of watching documentaries, and if you’re as slow with political news as I am, it’s also a nice way to get your news fix. Probably.
Catch The Kleptocrats on iwonder.