I can think of few people I’d be less interested in spending 90 minutes with than Steve Bannon, the slovenly pseudo-intellectual who ran Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and tried to make a laundry list of hateful impulses — xenophobia, racism, misogyny, homophobia — look like a coherent political ideology.
Documentarian Alison Klayman spent weeks with the guy to film “The Brink,” a terrifyingly eye-opening look behind the curtain of Bannon’s attempt at globalizing and weaponizing his white-nationalist crap. If she could do it, it falls upon us to do our civic duty and find out what she learned.
Klayman — whose first movie, 2012’s “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” profiled the dissident Chinese artist — is often a one-woman crew here, acting as cinematographer and sound recordist. She insinuates herself into Bannon’s entourage after he’s left the White House to begin his next big project: A global campaign to coalesce far-right movements around Europe under a catch-all “nationalism” banner.
At different points, Klayman shows Bannon meeting with members of far-right groups from France, Hungary, Sweden and the United Kingdom — that last one in the person of Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independent Party and one of the louder voices in favor of Brexit. (The comedian John Oliver once called Farage a “three-time cover model for ‘Punchable Face’ magazine,” and there’s nothing here that suggests Oliver is wrong.)
At the same time, Bannon is vetting congressional candidates who he can back to carry the hate-spewing “nationalism” message into the 2018 midterms. His first candidate is former Alabama Supreme Court justice Roy Moore, whose alleged predilection for very young women proves to be a campaign hindrance.
Klayman lets Bannon hang himself with his own hypocrisy and arrogance. He claims an intellectual superiority in his campaign, but comes up with arguments that boil down to little more than “hey, we won last time.” He claims he’s advocating populism, but does so while flying private jets to European capitals and staying in swank hotels. (That changes, tellingly and hilariously, in the movie’s later scenes.) He waves the flag of patriotism, but takes millions from a shady Chinese billionaire to fund his escapades.
Still, “The Brink” reminds us not to sleep on Steve Bannon. He may be down after the Democrats took the House in 2018, his fake populism replaced by the genuine article in the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But only a fool would count him out, or let one’s guard down when he’s at work.
Opened March 29 in select cities; opening Friday, May 3, at the Tower Theatre (Salt Lake City). Not rated, but probably PG-13 for language. Running time: 91 minutes.