The Brink is a vérité style documentary directed by Alison Klaymon that follows Steve Bannon, the former White House Chief Strategist in the Trump administration.
The film follows his activity from the 2016 U.S. election up until the 2018 primaries.
The first few shots of the film signal that this is going to be a very upfront portrayal of Bannon. The inclusion moments where he demonstrates his awareness of his image early on was quite jarring. I remember seeing memes at the time, making fun of his appearance likening him to "being infected by an alien but didn't tell anyone". Showing him address this out loud at the beginning made the film a more harrowing experience for me, knowing that his awareness of his bad image to progressives is what fuels him to go further. This weaponised awareness in Bannon is also used by Klaymon to personify the far-right movement in the US and around the world. Footage of him calling his audience "deplorables" to both mock Hillary Clinton and turn it into a point of pride for his audience is repeated throughout the film.
As the film continues Klaymon sets up a pattern of how Bannon approaches different situations, such as the 2016 election and Brexit. It shows the secret meetings where he sets up the toxic media campaigns that platform bigotry. Bannon’s pragmatism and certainty is frightening, although I had some idea of this from personally reading about him. Where this film steps up to the plate however is the very subtle inclusion of the repetitive methods Bannon uses to set up these media events. The constant private jet trips between meetings, rallies and dinners, the "rose between two thorns" analogy when he poses for a photo with a man and a woman, the cans of Red Bull, him swearing at his colleagues over the phone and him finalising his propaganda. These moments in the film confirm a lot of the fears we have - he knows exactly what he's doing.
Watching through it I was beginning to worry that Klaymon wouldn't interject, or there would no stance taken in the film about his views. I worried that someone who is a fan of Bannon (like the ones depicted in the film) would get a positive kick out of it. Thankfully, there are moments where Klaymon confronts Bannon about some of his views. However, it doesn't make you feel any better because these moments reveal how ideologically transfixed he is.
The film also does well to address that the coverage and platforming of his views by the media is a benefit to him, even if it's critical of him. There is a sequence in the movie as he's speaking at these right-winged events, where the film places Bannon amongst the cameras and microphones that are spreading his message. The cameras themselves become a sinister presence.
To sum up The Brink, Alison Klaymon has gone above and beyond to honestly produce a portrait of a ruthlessly pragmatic ideologue. The film confirms a lot of the fears around how easy it is for the media and populations to be manipulated, but at the same time takes the mystery away from why the last few years in politics and media have given a platform for bigotry and damaging nationalistic views. I highly recommend the film to those who are both a fan of this vérité style of documentary, and those who want to understand the weird times the world is experiencing at the moment.