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An unguarded zealot

Alison Klayman’s The Brink’

3 minute read
Sure of the rightness of his cause: Steve Bannon in ‘The Brink.’ (Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.)
Sure of the rightness of his cause: Steve Bannon in ‘The Brink.’ (Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.)

In today’s divisive political climate there is probably no one other than the American president himself who is more divisive than Steve Bannon. A new documentary film from director Alison Klayman, ‘The Brink,’ gives us a close-up look.

Bannon is the über-conservative Breitbart pundit who helped engineer Trump’s campaign triumph in 2016 and then became a senior White House advisor, before being unceremoniously dumped less than a year later. You’d think that such a humiliatingly public fall from Trump’s graces would have put a crimp in Bannon’s ongoing white-supremacist crusade. Well, not so much.

Post White House

Somehow, soon after he departed the White House, filmmaker Alison Klayman and her documentary crew were granted remarkable access to Bannon and his associates until the 2018 midterm elections. Their resultant film offers an alarming cinéma vérité look at a zealot as he seeks to turn his particular brand of white supremacy (often rebranded as “white nationalism” or simply “nationalism,” not only by Bannon but by the US press) into a global movement.

Unlike many who have been subjected to Trump’s displeasure, Bannon did not abandon the Trump banner when he was kicked out of the White House. With his immensely shrewd political mind, Bannon understood how essential Trump’s political base is to his own crusade.

At home and abroad

Avoiding biographical exploration of Bannon, Klayman and her producer, Marie Therese Guirgis, simply follow Bannon in his travels, domestically and abroad. Inside the US, Bannon strives to maintain his cred with America’s far right wing, while abroad we see his efforts to make common cause with similarly motivated right-wing movements and leaders in Europe in order to influence future European Parliament elections. The goal back home, of course, is to limit—if not eliminate altogether—immigration from countries that are majority Muslim or nonwhite.

As the 2018 midterms approach in the film, we see Bannon’s normal confidence and self-assurance crack in the face of the ever more real probability of a Democratic wave. Bannon knew that losing either house of Congress would hobble Trump politically, and where Trump goes, so goes Bannon’s crusade. Of course, the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives. The unfavorable election results dismayed and depressed Bannon but did not deter him.

The chilling truth

Klayman strives to avoid imposing an obvious editorial point of view. Instead, her coolly objective cameras document something far more compelling than just another liberal political screed. It offers us a rare look at an unguarded zealot, not without charm, but certainly a true believer of remarkable intellectual force and ruthless ambition.

Why would Bannon grant Klayman such unfettered access? One obvious answer is that, as a true believer, Bannon is sure of the rightness of his cause and thus proud of his efforts. The chilling truth is that when those who share Bannon’s belief watch this movie, they will see a hero in action, pursuing a grand, virtuous crusade. Those who believe otherwise will be scared out of their wits.

In the end, The Brink, with its careful editing and cool reporter’s eye, provides some valuable insights, not only into what Steve Bannon believes but into what he wants to accomplish and how he plans to go about accomplishing it.

What, When, Where

The Brink. Directed by Alison Klayman. Philadelphia area showtimes.

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