Too Little Too Late: Our Review Of ‘American Chaos’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - October 10, 2018
Too Little Too Late: Our Review Of ‘American Chaos’

In American politics, there’s a toxic ebb and flow between liberals and conservatives that is eroding democratic values. Democrats and Republicans don’t just rally around their shared values, now more than ever, both sides unite to fight against what their opposition represents. This “anything but the other side” mentality is grinding their political system to a halt. Director James D. Stern’s new documentary, American Chaos explores the root of this divide. To do so, Stern travels around America talking to average folks who support a conservative party that works against their best interests.

Stern, a lifelong Democrat, grew up in a politically-minded family – Bobby Kennedy was his childhood idol. American Chaos finds the filmmaker working through his feelings about the Trump administration’s rise to power. The picture goes back to six months before the 2016 presidential election and follows the 43rd American president’s tumultuous rise to power. Stern ventures across America talking to “the people” hoping to understand what Trump voters are thinking. He visits a Cuban community in Miami, talks to jobless coal miners in Virginia, and even chats with a Trump-voting Mensa member. Stern speaks with an informal style that puts his subjects at ease, and they respond with honesty and indignation.

American Chaos -- James D. Stern

Liberals can’t fathom how decent people can support a walking toddler-tantrum like Trump. Stern lays out the mental gymnastics voters must execute to avoid accepting accountability for his boorish behaviour. One theme that keeps coming up is that voters ignore his faults because they support some of his policies. Whether it’s bringing back mining jobs or building a wall, these initiatives mean so much to people they accept backing a repugnant human being. Stern shows us empty coal mines and talks to miners who have been out of work for years; you get why a Hollywood sex scandal involving Trump isn’t enough to sway their votes. Does that make them hateful, ignorant, and racist? Sometimes. Though too many Trump voters are hateful, ignorant, and racist, many are merely pragmatists.

American Chaos delves into the flaws in America’s two-party political system. Millions of voters aren’t pro-Trump as much as anti-Hillary. They don’t like her and won’t trust her. Republicans leverage that mistrust with their fake news campaigns that exploit the misinformed. No rational human being can argue that Trump is more qualified than Clinton. But you can make people “feel” like he’s the better choice, by telling lies and fueling their base instincts. Is this shady tactic problematic and unethical? Yes, but it produces results, and this strategy didn’t end with the last election. Expect the political divide to get worse before it gets better.

You can’t have a Trump documentary without discussing fake news. Stern doesn’t dwell on the legitimate, fact-based evidence of wrongdoing that the president dismisses as phony. Instead, he looks at the right-wing propaganda machine’s impact on conservative voters. Every day, blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity spout conspiracy theories about secret emails and Obama coming after American’s guns. Too many voters lack the critical thinking skills to see through these lies. It’s what feels right and what they want to hear, so they don’t question blatant falsehoods. The result is an energized base of low information voters.

American Chaos -- Border Wall

While the image of rabid, foaming at the mouth Obama-haters comes to mind, American Chaos paints another picture. The doc reveals elderly men and women with a penchant for quoting Fox News headlines. Stern humanizes the people mucking up the Democrats efforts but his revelation doesn’t explain anything we didn’t already know.

Stern seems like a nice guy and someone I would enjoy sitting down with for a drink. But I didn’t need him to take me on this 90-minute journey. Not right now anyway. I’m a political news junkie, and this administration’s transgressions cause me pain and anxiety every single day. I suspect most other liberals feel the same way. American Chaos regurgitates information you can get from watching five minutes of CNN. And 2018’s news cycle blazes ahead at such a breakneck pace that Stern’s doc would be behind the times if it dropped a year ago.

America is divided, the misinformed vote against their own interests and conservative politicians profit from policies fueled by their base’s anxieties. Michael Moore tells the same story more compellingly in Fahrenheit 11/9. And Errol Morris tackles the material with more perspective into the right-wing thinking process in American Dharma. American Chaos lacks the insights or entertainment value to benefit liberal audiences as an informative documentary or as a distraction. Instead, American Chaos is a painful reminder of the political disarray squeezing the life out of democracy, 18 months after the damage has been inflicted. It’s not that this film is without merit, but who wants a flu shot six months after flu-season?

This post was written by
Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based freelance writer and pop culture curator. Victor currently contributes insights, criticisms, and reviews to several online publications where he has extended coverage to the Toronto International Film Festival, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada. Victor has a soft spot in his heart for Tim Burton movies and his two poorly behaved beagles (but not in that order).
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