For what seems like the hundredth time, Steve Bannon positions himself next to a young woman for a photograph. With a flourish, he says “you go in the middle – a rose between two thorns.” By the end of The Brink, the line becomes comical, as though seeing a film villain rehashing the same petty charm tactics on a sequence of victims.
Bannon, of course, is far more sinister than any fictional baddie – his role as the instigator of Trump’s Muslim travel ban only one of many public acts of racism, underhand leadership tactics and incitement to political violence. The film attempts to uncover Bannon’s motivations for his extreme crusade of hate by following him while he tries to unite Europe’s far-right political groups.
Director Alison Klayman shows Bannon in moments of public glory and private doubt. He necks litres of energy drinks while muttering about weight-loss plans and shouting at underlings. It feels like a particularly dark episode of The Thick of It, Bannon recast as Peter Capaldi’s sweary Malcolm.
Klayman often seems to go unnoticed by Bannon, giving the film the grotesque ring of unimpeded truth. Her silent observations of his appalling bigotry and manipulation make for an uncomfortable watch. With Klayman’s lens as our representative, we can only wish she’d interrogate him further. However, her passivity is exactly what allows the film such telling access to this scary world. This dilemma is further complicated by the film’s humour. As odd comic moments emerge from changes in the narrative tension, the moral complexity of laughing at Bannon is constantly brought into question.
The Brink does not make any revelations about what drives Steve Bannon, and its observational style is undoubtedly problematic. Despite this, the film’s behind-the-scenes focus on the rise of European fascism makes for important, if nerve-jangling, viewing.
DIRECTOR: Alison Klayman
SYNOPSIS: After his fall from grace at the White House, Steve Bannon launches a campaign to unite far-right groups across Europe.