"American Dharma" gives Steve Bannon a voice, if you're already turned off by that prospect then documentarist extraordinaire Errol Morris' latest movie is not for you. The rest of us can go into this beguiling film with an open mind and accepting the challenge of an open dialogue with a man that many believe to be responsible for the emergence of the "Alt-Right" movement in this country.
Morris has been criticized for not being tough enough on Bannon in this doc, I say phooey. Morris not only calls Bannon "racist," "evil" and "scary" to his face, but he is there to counterbalance and debate him throughout. Of course, deciding to boycott this doc plays right at the hands of the alt-right, who won the election because of the safe-space mentality inflicting America today.
The former editor in chief of Breitbart and self-proclaimed “populist” warrior, turns out to also be a hardcore cinephile and Morris models much of the film on Bannon's favorite films, including the Gregory Peck vehicle "Twelve O’Clock High". Bannon sees himself as General Frank Savage from that film, as played by Peck, a tough leader, whose code of conduct is questioned by every general around him -- until, eventually, everybody comes on-board his train of thought, which leads to America's war against everybody else.
Morris and Bannon's duel is tough and intense, but they accept each other's vastly opposite ideals. Bannon throws at us a bunch of cinematic references, maybe most memorable of all seeing himself as Falstaff in Orson Welles’ “Chimes at Midnight.” Recalling the scene when Falstaff, betrayed by Henry IV, whom he helped propel to the throne before being banished by his protegee. Bannon takes that scene as a parallel to what happened between he and Trump.
We're never really sure who has the upper hand in this duel of filmmaker versus subject, but the film is much more than that, it's a compelling historical overview of what is happening and what's to come. Bannon warns of a looming civil war and his reasonings aren't that far-fetched. Morris seems to agree with him, ending "American Dharma" with apocalyptic imagery that feels disturbing because of its plausibility. Due to its warnings of the impending violent divisiveness looming in the country, this is a film that could age very well over time, but we all hope it doesn't. [B+]