In director Pavel Lungin's contemporary Russian history play Tycoon, five university professors reach the limits of their potential academic success when the Soviet Union crumbles and traditional channels of advancement close. Charismatic schemer Vladimir Mashkov convinces his scholarly friends to take advantage of the flux, and within 15 years, they metamorphose from ineffectual theoreticians to wealthy power brokers, with contacts in the criminal underworld and the Kremlin. Lungin has cited The Godfather, Once Upon A Time In America, and Martin Scorsese's crime sagas as reference points for Tycoon, but in those films, the writers and directors revel in explaining the fine points of criminal enterprise. In Tycoon, Mashkov and his colleagues' path to riches is never clear, beyond a hazy connection to imported cars and tax shuffles. But Lungin and his co-screenwriter Aleksandr Borodyansky are being deliberately vague. Tycoon is based on a Yuli Dubov novel which deals with the actual decade-long reign of "the oligarchs" in post-Soviet Russia, during which the rules of the capitalist game were still being written, and no one really knew what was going on or who was in charge. Nevertheless, the film's complicated plot is beyond bewildering, and useful only when it leads to surreal scenes like the opulent birthday party in which an elephant, an orchestra, and a gift-wrapped woman play a role. Even then, the framing is so claustrophobic that it reveals little of the location, and the action is so busy that it says little about how working-class men feel about being able to act on their every whim. Mashkov's crew is too broadly painted–the worrywart always worries, the fat guy always eats–and though ordinarily, it's preferable in drama for character to be revealed through action, the revelations are scant when those actions consist primarily of abstract planning followed by laughing, shouting, and dancing. Tycoon's clever flashback structure culminates in a surprising plot twist, but such twists are exactly what's wrong with Tycoon. While the players are circling and silently sizing each other up, the audience may find itself straining to look around them, to see the history they're blocking.