‘American Dharma’

Errol Morris’ American Dharma joins the ranks of the countless profiles regarding Steve Bannon unleashed upon the world since he exploited Trump right into the White House.

In fact, it’s the second to hit movie theaters THIS YEAR, after The Brink. At least the latter offers a long-form fly-on-the-wall looksee scantly found elsewhere. Yes, it’s an easily manipulated one, but observing how someone acts in front of a camera — and I do mean acts — and moves through spaces can be enlightening.

But since Dharma sticks with a more straightforward interview format, less distinguishes it from all the other Bannon sitdowns humanity’s endured this century.  Sure, we can glean much from flicks of his face, visage contortions and body language — ticks Morris has always been a master at framing — but this sort of examination is still a continuation of every time Bannon’s mug has flashed across one of your screens this decade.

In his previous documentaries dissecting figures of equal stature, Morris — through his questioning and editing — was able to shine new light on the familiar. But perhaps by virtue of Bannon’s media oversaturation in our current 24/7 news cycle, American Dharma feels like more of the same.

And yet, the documentary glides past an approach that could’ve differentiated it from the norm, a largely dormant volcano that would’ve blown the proceedings wide open. Pre-interview, Bannon picked a few of his favorite movies for the two to discuss. But instead of delving into the art, Morris use these movies merely as a jumping-off point to debate Bannon’s sociopolitical ideology, ultimately dovetailing into a typical chronicling of his biography that basically every profile also summarizes. Why not focus entirely on the movies — go deep on them! — and let us deduce how Bannon’s artistic opinions relate to his more dangerous tenets we already know and loathe?

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