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.
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Playing: In limited release