A few years ago, under the watchful eye of award-winning director Laura Poitras, artist Nan Goldin took on a clan of pharmaceutical billionaires in a campaign that was hard-hitting, elegant and visually dazzling. But, be warned, the best documentary of the year will leave you emotionally broken.
Poitras is best known for Citizenfour, about whistleblower Edward Snowden who ran afoul of the US government. Goldin is against the Sackler family, whose company, Purdue Pharma, engineered and profited from America’s opioid crisis. The enormous wealth they amassed has allowed various branches of the family to spend millions of dollars on art and pass themselves off as great supporters of culture.
As in Citizenfour, tension is generated by the fact that powerful people and institutions will go to great lengths to protect their reputations. There is a lot at stake.
But what makes the film truly special is the way Poitras weaves Goldin’s story into the mix, moving from her three-year addiction to OxyContin, to insightful details about the tragedies surrounding Barbara Goldin, her older sister, as well as her two best friends. , David Wojnarowicz and Cookie Mueller. She wears her fury that they’re gone on her sleeve.
A twist in the story comes when we meet Goldin’s parents. Lillian and Hyman are so fragile they are practically translucent. And, when they argue about Barbara, they fall apart very quietly. It’s shocking to witness. Both seem to feel the weight of what has been lost, which only makes the sequence more shocking involving three members of the Sacklers, facing the devastation Purdue Pharma has wrought.
Even if you know nothing of Goldin’s groundbreaking photography and presentations, you’ll be mesmerized by her husky voice, flamboyant looks, and curly red hair (if she were ever to be the subject of a biopic, Alia Shawkat would be a fantastic young Nan and, please please let Frances McDormand be cast as Nan’s middle-aged self). In a word, she is a natural born movie star.
Investigative journalist Patrick Radden Keefe, who has written about the Sacklers for years, admits that when he first met Goldin, he patronized her. Even the Sacklers themselves certainly underestimated her. There is no danger of that happening now. Goldin, one of the angriest old women on the planet, turned out to be a giant hunter. This complicated film explains who and what she is fighting for.
117 minutes, certified 18
In cinemas from Friday