Score: 3 stars *** out of 4 ****
It should be pointed out immediately that the three star rating for this movie has nothing to do with its quality as a film; but solely on its entertainment value.
Wanting to be an in-depth documentary by a liberal filmmaker trying to understand the appeal of Donald Trump amongst the 2016 electorate, it instead is an unintended self-parody and one of the most unintentionally funny movies ever produced.
After an interesting but irrelevant three-minute opening title sequence featuring every U.S. president since the start of the 20th century, director James Stern lays out his bona fides and mission. The epitome of the coastal elite, college-educated white liberal, Stern is baffled as to why so many Americans are enamored with then-presidential hopeful Donald J. Trump. Six months before the election, Stern heads out to a handful of Red States on what he calls a “listening tour.” He doesn’t want confrontation but rather illumination. He’s looking to find out what makes Trump fans tick.
Stern’s first stop: Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida. After being shooed away by security, Stern points at the home from a distance and poses the question: “So this is a man of the people?” This is odd as only moments earlier when describing his upbringing and being a “Kennedy family in a one-party town” (Chicago), Stern either ignores or is oblivious to the fact that patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy was worth (in today’s dollars) over $3 billion, roughly the same as Trump. Oops.
The first sign that Stern is in for series of letdowns comes with a visit to prominent Boca Raton businessman Armand Grossman, a forbearer to the #WalkAway movement who declares “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, it left me.” Grossman isn’t the last interview with Trump supporters who were formerly staunch Democrats.
Before leaving Florida, Stern spends time with Julio Martinez, a septuagenarian who emigrated from Cuba as a child and spends most of his time spreading the Trump word (and swag) to scads of other non-U.S. born citizens, many of whom openly admit to having twice voted for Barack Obama and deplore Hillary Clinton. What seems to escape Stern’s grasp throughout the film is how so many otherwise rational people could be drawn to a candidate so lacking in traditional campaign behavior and decorum. How could these folks prefer plain talk over old, vacuous double-speak?
Prior to landing in West Virginia coal country, Stern makes a stopover at the RNC convention in Cleveland where he acts like a lamb in the den of lions while reaching the nadir of his incredulousness. Loping about the gathering with an ever-increasingly stooped gate and slack-jawed pallor, Stern declares he’s now (despite the presence of hundreds of women and people of color) in a “white man’s world.” Almost topping his naïve and elitist paranoia, Stern walks past crowd control fencing outside the convention hall and states that Trump has already begun building walls.
It is in Texas where Stern encounters the owner of a 16,000 acre ranch located on the Mexican-American border and gets as close as he ever will to understanding the concerns of those not like him. The two men chat mere feet away from the current wall where a portion has been raised to facilitate flood waters (?) and all that’s stopping anyone from coming over are two lines of easily-penetrable barbed wire. The rancher estimates well over 1,000 illegals cross the border on to his property every day.
In desperate need of some positive reinforcement, Stern makes a pit stop in Los Angeles where he watches the second presidential debate with a veritable rainbow coalition of like-minded Democrats who are clearly troubled that Clinton isn’t pummeling Trump yet collectively declare “she did fine” when it’s all over. It’s not exactly inspired jubilation and for the first time, Stern begins to think Trump might actually win. Stern finally reaches his “ah-ha” moment when witnessing Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” speech and realizes her level of contempt and vitriol for “fly-over” state voters and believes this moment to be the beginning of the end.
Already feeling like a dated, time capsule type of film, “American Chaos” seems to exist solely for the purpose of ginning up the ire of disillusioned Democrats prior to the upcoming midterm elections and the same can be said for Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9” out next week. While Stern is the polar opposite of Moore regarding style, they are in lockstep with their messaging which reflects that of their Democratic brethren. They have nothing new to offer the American people and believe the only way to gain any traction is to belittle the opposition with schoolyard-level insults and tisk-tisk admonishment.
After two years of roaring Trump successes, his naysayers still haven’t got the message. Too many people refuse to drink their Kool-Aid and they are beside themselves because of it.
"American Chaos" rivals “Deadpool 2” as the funniest 2018 movie thus far.
Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets and is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and he recently co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle. Over the last two decades, Mr. Clark has written over 3,500 movie reviews and film related articles for the Gwinnett Daily Post and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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