'Soros': Film Review | Telluride 2019

SOROS - Backlot - Telluride Film Festival - Publicity - H 2019
Telluride Film Festival
A sometimes frustrating look at the controversial philanthropist.

Bob Dylan's son Jesse directs this documentary portrait of billionaire George Soros, a lightning rod because of his support for progressive causes.

George Soros, a demon to many right-wing blabbermouths, must be one of the most misunderstood men on the contemporary scene. At least that is the premise of Jesse Dylan’s documentary, Soros, which contains extensive interviews with the billionaire, along with testimonials from some of his admirers and scathing evaluations from his detractors. The film is sometimes clumsily executed, but it does have timeliness in its favor.

The movie opens with blasts from people like Stephen Bannon and Fox News host Tucker Carlson. While they are foaming at the mouth, these angry reactionaries never quite clarify why they so detest Soros. And that is the film’s fatal flaw; it doesn’t fully explain why Soros has aroused more antipathy than other progressive philanthropists. The film does recall how Soros made part of his fortune by betting against the Bank of England during a period of financial instability, so perhaps that partially explains the antipathy of people who view him as an opportunist.

Dylan, the son of Nobel laureate Bob Dylan and the director of the Yes We Can video on behalf of Barack Obama, doesn’t always have a clear sense of structure, but he benefited from access to Soros. The billionaire philanthropist speaks frankly about his background and about the causes that engage him. Soros was born in Hungary in 1930 and survived the Nazi occupation even though he and his family were Jewish. He emigrated first to England and later to America. His background provided some of the wilder conspiracy theories surrounding Soros. Some of his detractors claim that he collaborated with the Nazis to identify Jews living in Budapest, though these critics blithely ignore the fact that he was only 13 years old when SS troops invaded Hungary.

More recently, Trump and his acolytes charged that Soros was funding the migrant caravans from Central America, even though there was no evidence that he would have had any motivation for such an enterprise. Could the demonization of Soros have something to do with the fact that he is Jewish? With all the anti-Semitism that surrounds Trump, that is certainly a possibility. Nevertheless, the film should have probed more deeply the reasons for the rabid antipathy toward Soros.

The film is also a bit scattershot in its structure. It takes too many side trips that veer away from the main subject. Soros was active decades ago in trying to end apartheid in South Africa, but the film’s dissection of the white government’s torture practices seems somewhat extraneous to the main subject. Similarly, it is unclear why the film spends time on the duplicity of Nazi official Albert Speer, who first denied that he knew about the German Final Solution and then was confronted with evidence to the contrary.

Dylan’s movie is at its strongest when it lets us hear from Soros himself. In one candid moment, he admits that he misunderstood the genocide in Myanmar and aligned himself with the wrong side, a welcome confession that even people who have idealistic motives can make damaging mistakes. We certainly come away impressed by Soros’ intelligence and passion, but this well-intentioned doc is not always as cogent and incisive as it might have been.

Venue: Telluride Film Festival

Director/executive producer: Jesse Dylan

Producer: Priscilla Cohen

Co-producer: Michael Hofacre

Director of photography: Paul Ryan

Editors: Michael Hofacre, Justin Giugno

Music: Federico Jusid

Sales agent: Cinetic Media

88 minutes