MaxSpace

Movie Review: The Brink

Uncomfortably up close with far-right kingmaker Steve Bannon

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

-Magnolia Pictures
MaxSpace

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


MaxSpace

Movie Review: Emma.

Annoying period in the title notwithstanding, this film is a delight.

Arts & Culture

Rising Son

Baltimore's McCaul Lombardi is making a name for himself in Hollywood, but he'll never forget where he came from.

Arts District

The Baltimore Arts Community Goes Virtual

A running list of online concerts, performances, and classes from local artists.


Arts District

Local Director Talks Filming the Federal Hill Man Who is Tattooed Entirely Blue

New short film tells story of Jim Hall, who began tattooing his skin blue in the '60s.

The Chatter

Ellicott City Kid Competes on ‘American Ninja Warrior Junior’

Look out for 11-year-old Raeya Linton on the Universal Kids show airing Feb. 22.

Arts District

Outdoor Art Walk Keeps Hampden’s Creative Spirit Alive During Quarantine

Julia Lieberman encourages her neighbors to hang artwork in their windows.

Connect With Us

Most Read


Maryland Hoops, and Everyone Else, Stomachs A Sudden End to Their Seasons: Plus, an update on Trey Mancini’s health and Joe Flacco shows for Marshal Yanda’s retirement party

Local Boutiques Offer Deals and Online Shopping Amid Coronavirus Outbreak: Opening and closing updates from the retail scene.

How to Support Small Businesses Amid Pandemic Panic: As foot traffic slows due to coronavirus, owners worry about lasting impacts.

With Emptying Venues, Local Music Community Faces Uncertainty: There are still ways to support local artists during the coronavirus outbreak.

John Waters Flexes Acting Muscles on 'Law & Order: SVU': The Baltimore icon will guest star on an episode of the NBC show later this month.