Film Review: The Brink dir. Alison Klayman

Film Review: The Brink dir. Alison Klayman

© The Sundance Institute

© The Sundance Institute

by Erik Nielsen

The Brink, directed by Alison Klayman, is a fascinating study of power and the mechanisms of the far-right political machine. The conversations that put Trump in the White House must have gone similarly to how this film unfolds. Steve Bannon and a group of like-minded constituents, behind closed doors, having conversations about how to win elections that will, in turn, affect the rest of world history. 

We join Steve Bannon a week before he resigns from the White House, a place he says has bad karma (maybe because he didn’t belong there). Where he picks up is right where he left off with the Trump campaign - pushing for a populist agenda, which he so aptly titles “The Movement”. Bannon becomes like Don Corleone, calling a meeting with the five families, even though his approach is more of a consigliere. At various dinners and conference halls, he meets with the far-right leaders of Italy, France, Sweden, Belgium, and Hungary--all in an attempt to get them elected. He even enlists, later on, the help of a fugitive Chinese billionaire Miles Kwok. Kwok’s persona is pulled straight from a Hollywood movie. Having laundered money for other far-right politicians in Europe, his political preferences are clear. But Bannon cuts the camera off early, so we can’t see or hear the rest of their meeting. By the end of the film, Kwok has pledged $100 million to Steve Bannon's “movement”.

Bannon is a businessman, so he is by nature an opportunist - what greater opportunity than to seize the political flare-ups of right-wing anger? But, his motivations, as far as the film shows, are unclear. While the film does not have to venture far to interrogate his antics, there’s no need for a talking-head disposition to drive the film’s narrative. Bannon is always on the move, looking for a new angle or a new way to spread his “ideals”. 

As he goes on his speaking tours, we see Bannon relish in his political celebrity and the excitement of his base to hear the words of their “divine savior”. Many in the political world believe it’s because of him that Trump won the presidency and his base thinks that his leadership will awaken a new right-wing movement, putting the world back in a safe place. Their conversations almost always center around immigration. Bannon is careful in his interviews, but strong in his rhetoric when speaking to his followers, especially when expressing anti-Semitic sentiments and pushing the idea that the Left has all the money. Those words have consequences, and he refuses, at least to journalists, to admit that.  

However, even as an admitted propagandist, Bannon is a crypt of information. While he continues to push for globalization and populism, it was hard to figure out why. Only one’s ability to see the connections between business, politics and his historical motivations (he compares himself to Abraham Lincoln twice) may point to his core; we never receive any closure. The director is able to pry for information towards the end, when she successfully flips his own agenda on him, saying that his dismay of identity politics is bullshit; that’s exactly what he’s playing on to motivate his white base in his admitted propaganda “Trump @ War”. But again, he is swift to deflect. He never reveals if he believes in what he says, only a devilish and suggestive grin.

The film's success is not only because of it’s engaging subject matter, but Klayman’s narrative prowess. She turns this fly on the wall approach to observing a puppet master into a political thriller. Will Bannon succeed? Will the Far-Right continue to grow in reach? Will the House of Representatives flip? The film flies through its run time while never losing grip on its subject. Audiences can only hold on tight and ride with Bannon. It’s an enthralling look at a political celebrity impressing his ideas upon the Western World, ideas that may shape the next 100 years of politics. 

You can watch a trailer for the film here.

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