Film Review – The Brink
The Brink lacks clear purpose in its observations of Steven Bannon, Donald Trump‘s onetime adviser and now a nationalist spokesman. Bannon is a controversial figure, to say the least, with those who admire him thinking he is aiding the United States and promoting nationalist ideas around the globe, while those who hate him believing him to be at best a racist and at worst a fascist. In watching this year in the life of Steve Bannon it’s doubtful that anyone will change their opinion. That is mainly because there isn’t a lot to learn by viewing this.
To get bias out of the way, I am not a fan of Steve Bannon and what he stands for. But dislike of a political figure doesn’t mean that he cannot be fascinating to observe and to try to understand what makes him tick and how he operates and succeeds or fails. There can be much to learn by observing those different from us in their beliefs. Jesus Camp allowed people to see Evangelical Christians doing their work with the young and seeing their goals and methods while really getting to know the kids that are being taught and those preaching to them.
Yet we never really get to see what Bannon believes or even how others perceive him. If you do not already know who Bannon is then you are not provided a lot to grab onto about who this man really is. We just know he was in media at Breitbart News, worked for Trump in the campaign and White House, and was fired. We see him speak a few times and get yelled at by a protester, he takes meetings in Europe with other far right leaders, and talks strategy about uniting as a group of nationalists. His goals are made abstract in the film and those around him are made even less clear about who they are and what they are about. All we learn is they are all far right nationalists. Bannon is not really a focal character in his own movie. He barely talks with the director and when he does it is more boilerplate patriotism such reading a quote by Abraham Lincoln— without further explanation of what it means for Bannon personally.
The only really interesting scene is during an interview when Bannon is asked about the “dog whistle” phrases he uses that are really an anti-Semitic code to attract racists. After the interview Bannon asks the journalist if he seriously believes that is what he is doing, to which the journalist replies, you would have to be stupid not to realize it. Bannon looks exasperated but also perplexed by how to respond to that observation. His bafflement was intriguing but it was never further explored. What were the terms Bannon was using in this campaign? Bannon and his nationalist allies keep talking about an ad campaign yet we never get to see it or any responses to it. I wanted to know more but the film never dug into this subject.
Director Alison Klayman seems to think that by following Bannon around those who like him will be intrigued to see him working and those who dislike him will enjoy watching as he puts himself out there for losing Senate candidate Roy Moore, or seeing the midterms go the Democrats. But we just go from meeting to meeting, a few tidbits dropped here or there such as financing from a Chinese dissident that is touched on but then quickly discarded. Over and over that is all we are given and it isn’t enough to make this compelling
Love him or hate him. Bannon should be interesting to watch. For those who love him, it’s a chance to get passionate about seeing a hero do his job well. For those who hate him, it’s an opportunity to really understand him and see why he does what he does. And for those with no opinion, it’s the possibility to learn about someone new. Sadly none of this comes to pass and we end where we started, wondering who is Steve Bannon? Yet we’re too bored to really care to find out for ourselves