Maxim Pozdorovkin and Tony Gerber’s The Notorious Mr. Bout teems with a masculine bravado evinced by both the documentary’s numerous male talking heads and its own chaotic, almost exhausting pace, which cuts between home-video recordings, news footage, CCTV cams, animated maps and explanations, and five continents to more comprehensively explain the tribulations (and eventual trial) of Viktor Bout, the convicted Russian arms dealer more colloquially known as “The Merchant of Death,” whose mythological status served as the basis for 2005’s Lord of War.
As Gerber explained in the Q&A following the film, he and Pozdorovkin set out to reveal that Bout isn’t simply a “shadowy Keyser Söze character,” but a complicated man who also liked to spend time with his family and shoot countless hours of home video. The danger in such an approach—and it’s a danger The Notorious Mr. Bout ultimately succumbs to—is that the subject becomes fairly romanticized rather than humanized, since the attempt to reverse one mythological status results in the valorization of another: insistence of Bout’s actual figure as part diabolical, part naïve, part victim. Unfortunately, Pozdorovkin and Gerber’s representation here appears as forced and questionable as much of the media portrayals denigrated throughout the film.