The Brink documentary review: a nasty piece of work

part of my Directed by Women series
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The Brink green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

I feared a portrait of human dumpster fire Steve Bannon would humanize him, but he’s beyond that. Can we use this inside look at his political and cultural manipulations to stop his fomenting of hate?
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
female director, female screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

At which point in the political- and cultural-shitshow cycle do we stand right now? If it’s winding down and we are about to begin the upswing back toward sanity (though I concede there is no evidence of this), then this film could be an essential chronicle of one piece of the mess that got us here, a cautionary tale of one kind of vile bastard to keep an eye out for next time. For The Brink is a documentary portrait of Donald Trump’s propagandist, chief strategist, and architect of the “Muslim ban,” Steve Bannon… and perhaps a last-gasp attempt by its human-dumpster-fire subject to demonstrate his relevance and importance.

That might explain why he gave director Alison Klayman (11/8/16, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry) such free rein: she embedded herself, as a one-woman filmmaking crew, in Bannon’s life and work in the year leading up to the 2018 US midterm elections, with total access; Bannon had no creative input or control over the final product. Because he knew that this might be his last opportunity to be the center of attention, because he knew he had nothing to lose?

What would a portrait of Joseph Goebbels have looked like in 1938? Would it have served as a warning?

The other possibility is downright horrifying: What if things are about to get much worse? What if we’re in 1938, and the 1940s are still looming ahead of us? Maybe Bannon doesn’t care that Klayman had such an intimate view on his awfulness — his bigotry is on full parade here — because he is going to continue winning and the triumph of his racist white-nationalism is going to spread even further. (His confidence in the correctness of his perspective might be the most terrifying thing Klayman captures.) Bannon is already an instrumental figure in the behind-the-scenes manufacturing of the Brexit vote in 2016, and his Brexit pal Nigel Farage appears here. (I may have thrown something at the screen at this point.) We see as The Brink ends that Bannon is focused on ensuring that the 2019 EU elections, now mere weeks away, will fan the ultra-right-wing flames already burning across Europe.

What would a portrait of Joseph Goebbels have looked liked in 1938? Would it have served as a warning? Might events to come have unfolded differently with advance warning not only of the evil plans afoot but the political and cultural manipulations that would be deployed to enact them? This shit has got to be countered, somehow, and can we use the evidence on display here to help with that? Or is it already too late?

The Brink Steve Bannon
No one is heiling, but they might as well be.

Lest you think Goebbels is too extreme a comparison for Bannon, know that he here calmly and with admiration talks about the design precision of Birkenau, and also asks, as he ponders his work, “What would Leni Riefenstahl do?” I feared The Brink might humanize Bannon, might create some sympathy for him, but he seems beyond that. He appears devoid of personality and lacking in any human warmth. He’s an ugly, nasty, self-congratulatory, hypocritical pustule fomenting hatred and race war, and there’s literally nothing else to him. The best that might be said of Bannon is that he puts the banality in the banality of evil: he might be dangerous, but he isn’t even dangerous in any original way. He’s a depressingly familiar monster.

The Brink is a deeply unpleasant film to watch, but it’s one vital for appreciating just how big a mess we’re in. And it’s a film that we will be digesting for a while yet, for this is a dispatch from the present to the future, from the middle of a story that has not yet ended. If we’re lucky, this movie might help us end it well.

The Brink was the Alliance of Women Film Journalists’ Movie of the Week for March 21st. Read the comments from AWFJ members — including me — on why the film deserves this honor.

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