Review: Documentary captures two sides of ‘Almost Holy’ crusader

Ukrainian pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko uses controversial means to rescue street kids in the documentary "Almost Holy."
(The Orchard)

Though colorful fantasies of lone-wolf vigilantism dominate movie screens in the form of super-powered comic book heroes, Steve Hoover’s documentary “Almost Holy” paints a picture of everyday avenging in the grim here-and-now. Its subject is Ukrainian pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko, for nearly 15 years a crusader against child homelessness whose messy tactics — abducting street kids, confronting abusers and predators, shaming inactive bureaucrats — are to his mind the only answer in a corrupt post-Soviet society ill-equipped to help its neediest.

Though Mokhnenko’s Pilgrim Republic rehab facility is the largest of its kind in the former Soviet Union, his aggressive ways — Hoover’s cameras are there for raids and roundups — and frequent media appearances have branded him as a lawless fame-seeker. The portrait “Almost Holy” offers, though, is of a complicated do-gooder whose Samaritan side is tender, philosophical and charming, and whose bad side you don’t want to be on.

The film, executive produced by Terrence Malick, boasts a mix of verité filmmaking and moody stylishness (deliberately smeary images, Atticus Ross’ industrial-tinged horror film score) that doesn’t always work. But in its episodic ups and downs — Mokhnenko pulling a sexually abused, illiterate deaf girl out of a hovel, challenging a pharmacy known to sell to dealers, worrying about the country’s civil war reaching their city — “Almost Holy” captures something meaningfully urgent in the brutal day-to-day of tough love amid a world of tougher indifference.



‘Almost Holy’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Playing: In limited release