AMERICAN DHARMA – Review by Diane Carson

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American Dharma profiles a captivating, infuriating Steve Bannon

Multi-award-winning documentarian Errol Morris interrogates important issues and individuals directly, insightfully, and, at times, confrontationally. His 1978 debut, Gates of Heaven, looked at pet cemeteries and those who choose them. A Brief History of Time profiles physicist Stephen Hawking. Mr. Death recounts execution technician Fred A Leuchter’s life. In the Academy Award winner Fog of War, he interviews former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.

In his latest documentary, American Dharma, Morris cross examines and interacts with Steve Bannon who transitioned from filmmaker, to investment banker, to executive chairman of Breitbart News, to head of the Trump campaign, and chief strategist during President Trump’s first seven months. On camera for over-the-shoulder shots, Morris stages most of the interview in a Quonset hut, with his usual expressionistic flourishes and solid research, supported by ample archival print and video footage to clarify every detail.

As always, Morris burrows deep into his subjects. Here his laser focus gives Bannon free rein to reveal his guiding principles and strategies, admirable and otherwise, and Bannon serves up some stunning commentary, including his extracting guiding principles from several iconic films, including Twelve O’Clock High, The Searchers, Paths of Glory, and The Bridge on the River Kwai. Illustrated by clips from them, Bannon elaborates on the concept of dharma, that is, a convergence of duty, fate and destiny. He references Napoleon and Shakespeare, certain you can’t care about being likable.

He argues calmly but without any qualification or compromise, convinced he’s right, that he is a populist and a rationalist, perhaps an apocalyptic one since he knows, given the inequity, a revolution is coming. The fascinating, infuriating Bannon loves the debate and the soap box, keeping American Dharma engaging beginning to dramatic conclusion.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.