Alison Klayman’s documentary on Stephen Bannon, The Brink, is a strange little film, and one that I suspect Klayman made with the implicit trust that only a certain audience of media-sophisticated liberals would view. It could easily be interpreted differently depending upon the audience, and I’ll concede that even my perspective shifted as I watched it, and in the hours afterward, because I didn’t immediately understand the point of view.
That’s because, on its face, The Brink is a documentary about Stephen Bannon’s attempt to reclaim his power after he resigned from the White House in 2017. He had this notion of continuing to push his “economic nationalism” (a euphemism for racism) across America beginning with Roy Moore’s Senate campaign. Moore, of course, lost that election. Undeterred, Bannon continued to see himself as the force behind Trump’s populism, even as he lost favor with the White House, was essentially exiled from Breitbart, and lost the financial backing of the Mercers. No matter, Bannon just took his show on the road to Europe, where he endeavored to spread his “economic nationalism” across another continent with what appeared to be little success only to return home to watch his Bannon-backed Congressional candidates badly lose in the midterms.
As a Bannon comeback documentary, The Brink is rudderless and, honestly, kind of boring. It’s essentially 90 minutes of Bannon taking meetings with other “thinkers,” to little avail. To a fan of Bannon, watching The Brink is like excitedly tuning in to watch your favorite baseball team enter the September pennant race 6 games back with a .500 record only to see it lose the next 40 games straight, all the while thinking that big comeback game is right around the corner.
The approach and sense of humor of The Brink is so dry, however, that it took me a beat to catch on to what is actually at play and recognize the actual point of view of the doc. It’s more akin to watching Veep without the musical cues or the hilarious one-liners. The Brink is really about a buffoon who thinks himself a deep-thinking intellectual, attacking windmills with a series of wet farts. Stephen Bannon is the soldier exclaiming, “It’s only a flesh wound” as he loses his arms and legs to his opponent.
Stephen Bannon is nothing, and on first blush, The Brink feels like a pointless documentary about a nobody who continues to persevere in the face of mounting defeats. But once the lightbulb goes off — and the documentary’s POV clicks in — I saw The Brink for what it is: A wry, real-life political version of A Confederacy of Dunces starring Stephen K. Bannon as the eccentric, delusional Ignatius Jacques Reilly. Here’s a guy preaching divine providence as God repeatedly smites him. I went from hating The Brink to marveling at its sly genius.
Bannon essentially gave Klayman a year and a half of access so that she could record him strike out over and over and over again, reducing this supposedly powerful, influential figure into a feeble, grouchy old dude who spends all day in his hotel room yelling at his nephew to yell at his assistant, who — like the rest of the world — has already completely tuned Bannon out. It’s a low-key doc that only winks at the audience when Bannon — the subject of the film — isn’t looking, as if to give Klayman plausible deniability if Bannon ever recognizes The Brink for what it actually is, a brilliant satire of a nothing man yelling at clouds.
Header Image Source: Magnolia Pictures