Documentary Releases: The Kingmaker (2019) - Reviewed

Few documentary filmmakers have been granted such unprecedented access to or possesses such keen insight into the world of the wealthy as American photographer Lauren Greenfield.  Between The Queen of Versailles which transformed the story of Jackie and David Siegel’s financial turmoil amid the economic downturn into a tragicomic fable debunking the American Dream and her Amazon Prime documentary Generation Wealth which further elaborated on the broad spectrum of wealth’s impact on our values system, Greenfield has set herself apart from the pack by turning her cameras unto opulence.   

Now comes the Showtime original documentary The Kingmaker which finds Greenfield’s sights set on what is easily her most electric subject yet: the mercurial and cunning First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Romualdez Marcos.  Formerly married to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Imelda and the Marcos regime quickly became infamous for defrauding the government, spending the country into the ground and a myriad of corruption charges including placing the country under martial law.  The level of extravagance enjoyed by Imelda Marcos was so extreme it coined the adjective ‘Imeldific’ to describe excessive luxuriousness. 

Coupled with widespread rumors she and her husband were responsible for the assassination of political opponent Benigno Aquino, Jr., the People Power Revolution forced the Marcos’ into exile for years until the early 1990s.  Despite facing an ocean of criminal charges upon their return, the Marcos’ still managed to regain political power in the country.  Despite a democratic election, many remain concerned the Marcos family can and will inevitably attain a political stronghold in the region with fears of martial law returning to the landscape.

With all of this surrounding Imelda Marcos, a frequently unreliable narrator whose greed remains unmatched and words still can’t fully be trusted, Greenfield and her cameras zero in on the 90 year old politician who paints a picture of innocence but whose avarice is as plain as day.  The resulting film is something like Lauren Greenfield’s General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait, positing viewers inches away from the subject, leaving no room for sympathy yet providing a fascinating glimpse into what is ostensibly the heart of the Marcos regime.   

Visually the documentary is well lensed by Lars Skree and Shana Hagan though it does incorporate numerous preexisting sources of footage which vary in picture quality from scene to scene.  Kubrick aficionados will recognize the name of composer Jocelyn Pook from Eyes Wide Shut and the mood provided here is one of a sense of impending doom and dismay over the gross spectacle of ill-gotten gains.  Mostly, though, this is Greenfield’s motion picture portrait of one of the world’s most powerful women whose penchant for materialism and boundlessly strategic talent for lying to save face remains unmatched.  For director Greenfield, The Kingmaker is a bona fide knockout!

--Andrew Kotwicki