In my estimation, Errol Morris is a national treasure. His documentaries are always beautifully crafted, no matter what the subject. His mastery of visual storytelling in the documentary form is almost unparalleled (except for maybe Werner Herzog, but that’s a story for another time), and he has the capacity to both enlighten and infuriate simultaneously, making it impossible to take our eyes away from the beautifully shot trainwreck before us. American Dharma is the height of that signature Errol Morris style.
If you didn’t know, the subject matter of American Dharma is the (not quite, unfortunately, but almost) universally loathed Harvard Business School graduate/filmmaker/investment banker/political strategist/evil mastermind, Steve Bannon. I have to admit I was extremely hesitant to watch this film, but Morris kept me in my seat, and I’m glad he did. Trust me, Morris does not lionize his subject. He is quite frank and upfront with Bannon about his opinions, which thankfully are diametrically opposed to that of the interviewee.
“…Bannon…doesn’t show any shame, regret, or remorse for any of the choices he made…”
The thing that is incredibly interesting about this hour-and-a-half-long deep-dive into the psyche of the man who orchestrated the total travesty that is the Trump presidency is that Bannon wholeheartedly believes his own hype. He doesn’t show any shame, regret, or remorse for any of the choices he made in regards to his work on the 2016 Presidential Campaign. In fact, he confirms most of our suspicions as to how the sausage was made. However, he sees himself as a kind of outcast, badass, folk hero in the vein of John Wayne in John Ford’s The Searchers or Gregory Peck in Henry King’s Twelve O’Clock High (both films are referenced directly in American Dharma).
For someone who is part of the far-out wackadoo reaches of the Republican party, Bannon certainly uses language that is very similar to Socialism or Communism. He consistently speaks about a coming “Revolution,” and how the “common man” is tired of being misrepresented, and how the “elite” need to be overthrown. The thing that’s hilarious about this is that Bannon does not have the self-awareness to realize that HE IS PART OF THAT ELITE, despite his obvious intelligence.
There is more than enough coverage of everything that’s been the American Nightmare that’s been ongoing since Trump’s election, but beyond that, we learn more about the news website that Bannon helped spearhead into infamy, Breitbart News. We also learn about the site’s late founder Andrew Breitbart and his pivotal role in the Anthony Weiner scandal, amongst other big news stories over the past half-a-decade or so. There is some shocking but simultaneously hilarious footage of him screaming at Occupy Wall Street protesters in Zuccotti Park, telling them to “behave themselves” and calling them filthy rapists for whatever insane reason.
"…we do see his veneer crack a little bit."