Steve Bannon has become an alluring target for documentarians, with the former White House strategist and Trump campaign chief providing ample access to two filmmakers. While Errol Morris’ coolly received “American Dharma” awaits distribution, director Alison Klayman unleashes “The Brink,” an intimate look at the firebrand suddenly thrust into the political wilderness.
“The Brink” joins the Bannon story very much in progress, capturing him not long after he left the White House in 2017, through his brief second stint at Breitbart – before stepping down in January 2018 – and then following him around through the midterm elections, in a “How far the mighty have fallen” way.
In the process, Bannon reveals his personable side, drinking blended green slop as part of a health kick, desperately trying to lose 35 pounds and hanging out with his nephew, Sean Bannon, while trying to promote candidates who support his nationalist worldview by globetrotting across Europe.
The fly-on-the-wall access (or really, given the amount of time he spends on the road, fly in the Escalade) does, to some extent, humanize a figure who has been a lightning rod for criticism and controversy, one who clearly relishes the bare-knuckled sport of politics.
The timeframe provides an opportunity to hear Bannon’s extemporaneous thoughts about a number of key events – such as being disinvited from the New Yorker festival – while reminiscing about moments like what he calls the “Billy Bush weekend,” when the “Access Hollywood” tape threatened to derail the Trump campaign.
Although Klayman offers insight into Bannon’s strategic thinking and beliefs the countdown to the midterms feels less illustrative with the benefit of hindsight. Mostly, the documentary delivers an up-close portrait of a highly influential and polarizing figure without doing much more than capturing the period depicted within the film.
Moreover, it’s not entirely clear who the film is really made for, other than perhaps for fervent political wonks who want to study Bannon in a “know your enemy” kind of way, since it’s hard to imagine many of his ideological allies lining up to see it.
The press notes describe Bannon as a “keen manipulator of the press and gifted self-promoter,” noting that the headlines he continues to attract – even when they’re negative – feed the myth surrounding the man and are thus key to his political survival.
Bannon does establish himself as a clear-eyed political observer, despite true-believer status that leads him to proclaim that Trump’s election was “divine providence.” As the midterm results come in and Democrats take control of the House of Representatives, he muses aloud, “Border Wall’s done. You’re not gonna get it.”
While “The Brink” should hold some interest for those inside the cable-news bubble, selling it to a broader audience is a different kind of barrier, one that Klayman doesn’t quite clear.
“The Brink” premieres March 29 in the US.