A few years ago — under the watchful eye of award-winning director Laura Poitras — artist Nan Goldin faced a clan of pharma billionaires in a campaign that was tough, nifty, and visually dazzling. But, beware, the best documentaries of the year will leave you emotionally wrecked.
Poitras is best known for Citizenfour, about whistleblower Edward Snowden who came face to face with the US government. Goldin is up against the Sackler family, whose company Purdue Pharma engineered and profited from America’s opioid crisis. The vast wealth they acquired allowed the various branches of the family to spend millions of dollars on art and thus present themselves as great supporters of culture.
As in CitizenFor, the tension stems from the fact that powerful people and institutions will go to any lengths to protect their reputations. There is a lot at stake.
But the way Poitras weaves Goldin’s story into the mix is what makes the film truly special, moving from his three-year addiction to OxyContin to Barbara Goldin, his older sister, as well as two of his best friends. David Wojnarowicz and Cookie Mueller bring together information about the tragedies surrounding friends. She wears her rage that they’ve moved on on her sleeve.
The story takes a turn when we meet Goldin’s parents. Lillian and Hyman are so weak they are practically translucent. And, when they do discuss Barbara, they very quietly fall to pieces. It is shattering to witness. Both seem to feel the weight of what has been lost, which only makes the sequence involving the three members of Sackler, faced with the devastation Purdue Pharma has wrought, all the more shocking.
Even if you know nothing about Goldin’s groundbreaking photos and slideshows, you’ll be mesmerized by her raspy voice, see-through looks, and curly red hair (if she’s ever the subject of a biopic, Aaliyah Shaukat would make a great young Nan) and, please please, let Frances McDormand be cast as Nan’s middle-aged self). In a word, he is a born movie star.
Investigative journalist Patrick Raiden Keefe, who has been writing about Sackler for years, admits that, when he first met Goldin, he patronized her. The Sacklers themselves certainly underestimated him as well. There is no danger of this happening now. Goldin, one of the grumpiest old ladies on the planet, has outed herself as a mass murderer. This complex film tells about who and what she is fighting for.
117 min, Cert 18
(Tags to translate) Sackler