Review: A Fascinating, Frustrating Portrait of Politics in The Brink

Coming on the heals of American Dharma, director Errol Morris’s documentary profile on political strategist Steve Bannon, it would seems strange that yet another Bannon doc is making its way to theaters. From filmmaker Alison Klayman (Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry) comes a more even-handed account of Bannon’s history and personality based largely on unfiltered access to him from right after the 2016 presidential election until last year’s mid-term elections. If for no other reason than she seems less under Bannon’s spell than Morris was in his film, The Brink offers a undeniably fascinating look at the fuzzy, facts-optional way in which this far-right ideologue does his work, even after he fell out of favor with his greatest benefactor, Donald Trump (who now refers to him as “Sloppy Steve”).

The Bring Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Honestly, the greatest light shed on Bannon’s work in this movie isn’t how he got Trump elected; it’s how he’s working with fringe (and not-so-fringe) groups in Europe, with the ultimate goal of disabling the European Union in the face of a refugee crisis. He’s taking nationalism to the global stage, attempting to win seats in next month’s European Parliamentary elections. What’s particularly impressive about Bannon’s abilities is how many times in just a couple of years he manages to reinvent himself into whatever others need, rather than just stay one thing and hope people come to him. More than once during The Brink, we see him fall under such scrutiny and attack that it would have crippled any other public figure, but not this guy. He’s resilient like a cockroach, maybe due to the quantities of alcohol we see him pour down his gullet.

Director Klayman challenges him infrequently, only because by simply letting him spin statistic and other statements with such reckless abandon, she gives him all the rope he needs to hang himself (or at least ensnare himself in his own bullshit). But she’s also not attempting a left-wing takedown of her subject. She allows his intelligence (as misguided as most believe he is) and charm shine through on several occasions, and a clearer picture of why he has been so successful—from his investment banking days on up. We also see him stumble, which is perhaps the most important revelation in the movie. His watching the mid-term election results is downright humbling, and adds a ray of hope to this profile of the Dark Side.

I’ve always believed it was best to know your enemy, so if Bannon represents everything that is wrong with American politics or peddling influence, maybe that's the best reason to check the movie out. It’s not an easy watch sometimes. He’s still a bigot of the highest order, and as much as he tries to hide it, it peeks out here and there. And though the damage he has done in his time on Trump’s team will take years to undo, but The Brink is a solid work by a rising doc filmmaker.

The film opens today at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.