Movie Review: The Brink

Uncomfortably up close with far-right kingmaker Steve Bannon

By Max Weiss | April 10, 2019, 11:58 am

-Magnolia Pictures

Movie Review: The Brink

Uncomfortably up close with far-right kingmaker Steve Bannon

By Max Weiss | April 10, 2019, 11:58 am

-Magnolia Pictures

Alison Klayman’s The Brink starts with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon talking about Nazis. But he’s not praising Nazis, as one might expect. He’s talking about the horrific paradox that Nazis were regular people who didn’t realize they were monsters. By day, they made plans for brutally efficient murder camps; by night, they went to parties and had dinner with their families.

Of course, this is a sly way to open a documentary on Steve Bannon, because in some ways his own analogy applies to him. No, Steve Bannon isn’t an actual Nazi, but he is certainly spreading a vile brand of far-right “populism” around the globe.

Oh, and here’s the other paradox: Bannon also happens to be a pretty charming guy.

As I watched the documentary, which follows Bannon after Trump cut ties with him in the aftermath of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, I found his charm positively disarming. He’s self-deprecating and affable; he has a winking, “c’mon, admit it—you’re having the time of your life” style of discourse that lures audiences into a kind of secret partnership with him. “It’s not that serious, it’s politics—and it’s fun,” seems to be his mantra, which is pretty damn cynical when you consider that what he’s advocating for is so dangerous.

And here’s something that will annoy you to no end (it certainly annoyed me): After he was fired by Trump and given the boot by Breitbart, the far-right website he edited, he didn’t miss a beat. He kept giving keynote speeches and jetting around the world in private planes, huddling with world leaders, and doing meet and greets with adoring fans.

Indeed, at one point in the film, he flies to Venice to promote yet another documentary about him, Errol Morris’s American Dharma, but doesn’t attend the film festival at which the film is premiering. Instead, he holes up in his posh hotel room, meeting with white nationalists and making plans to start a global anti-immigration movement.

Klayman humanizes Bannon—with his big belly (he swears he’s trying to lose it), pock-marked face, constant supply of Red Bulls, and unkempt appearance, it’s not that difficult. But she is also very clear-eyed about who he really is. There’s a telling moment late in the film where Bannon is talking to a reporter for The Guardian who accuses him of using anti-Semitic dog whistles when he describes George Soros as leading a globalist conspiracy.

“You don’t really think that’s anti-Semitic!” cracks Bannon, performatively shocked.

“Yes, I do,” says the reporter.

“C’mon, you don’t really,” Bannon tries again, but the reporter stands firm. In fact, he says, he’s offended that Bannon is joking about a subject so serious. He’s one of the first in the film who is not swayed by Bannon’s back-slapping bonhomie and it’s both cathartic and clarifying.

The film ends right after the 2018 midterms, when a diverse group of Democratic congresspeople­—many women of color—have won their districts. Bannon, who consulted for a few of the losing Republicans, is dismayed. It’s a blow for him and the movement he’s trying to lead—and in that sense a relatively optimistic note on which to end an otherwise depressing film. But if we’ve been paying close enough attention, we know the good vibes are temporary. There’s no kicking Bannon out of polite society because he’s so damn good at negotiating it. The moral of the film might very well be this: Beware of affable nationalists in rumpled shirts.

The Brink opens this Friday at the Charles Theatre

Meet The Author

Max Weiss is the editor-in-chief of Baltimore and a film and pop culture critic.

You May Also Like

Arts & Culture

Book Reviews: August 2019

The latest from Dan Rodricks and Shawna Potter.

The Chatter

Woodstock 50 Festival Gets Moved to Merriweather, Probably.

Relocation from Upstate New York to Columbia seen as last chance to save troubled anniversary concert.

Arts & Culture

Telling the Whole Story

Museums and historic homes enrich the present by grappling with their own difficult pasts.

Arts & Culture

Time Machine

It took Trudy Morgal two decades to find her now-iconic portrait from the weekend of peace, love, music, and mud.

The Chatter

Baltimore Clayworks and City Youth Create Tile-Mosaic Mural in Park Heights

Ceramic arts center partners with community organizations to bring the project to life.

On The Town

AFRAM Festival Returns to Druid Hill Park This Weekend

Annual celebration of African American culture brings in big names like Rick Ross and Teddy Riley.

Connect With Us

Most Read

The Mare Projects Connects Communities in the African Diaspora: Works from their first-ever residency program will be on display at Gallery CA.

New Club Brings Together Baltimoreans With Shared Dining Interests: As it develops, the Baltimore Supper Club hopes to bridge neighborhood gaps.

History of Baltimore's Bygone Synagogues Captured in New Plein Air Art Exhibit: Collection of oil paintings on view at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation through October 28.

Greedy Reads Plans Remington Expansion for Late Fall: The Fells Point bookstore will open its second location in a space across from R. House.

Male/Female Statue: Should It Stay or Go in Penn Station Overhaul?: The future of the long-controversial 52-foot sculpture could be in question with train station redesign.