Director James D. Stern (“The Year of the Yao”) probably didn’t set out to put a human face on the ardent Trump fan, but his new documentary features examples of both extreme and perfectly normal Trump supporters.
As we ramp up to the Thursday release of “Fahrenheit 11/9,” Michael Moore’s follow-up to his 2004 blockbuster documentary, we can get a similar dose of politics with “American Chaos.” By inserting himself into his narrative, documentarian Stern adopts the first person reporting approach that has served Moore well. Therefore, Stern wanders through various scenes, mouth agape, discussing ideology during the final stretch of the 2016 presidential election cycle.
Stern attends the 2016 Republican National Convention, and he covers the shocking election results. Then he visits several Trump supporters in Florida and other parts of the country. As he shakes his head in disbelief, some of the supporters of one of the most divisive presidents in history put forth more than a few reasonable arguments in favor of their political leanings. Stern finds some good people, with good reasons for their beliefs and their continuing support for the current presidential administration.
And to his credit, Stern is respectful and his film doesn’t make an attempt to embarrass or to ridicule these fervent Trump acolytes. Sure, some of the people he interviews approach the far-right, but Stern smartly doesn’t just give us only fanatical exemplars. Rather, he manages (and I’ll bet it wasn’t hard) to find some rational folk to pontificate on why, despite Trump’s personal failings, they support his agenda, particularly as to the immigration issue.
Of course, with the speed of 24-hour news cycle, “American Chaos” might feel a little dated, and one wonders how opinions would change with the latest allegations against the Trump team. But Stern’s film gains energy by interspersing his real time coverage of political events, like those at the convention. And his incredulous reactions to those happenings, shared by many on the opposite side of the political spectrum from Trump, are classic.
Although he’s one of the few voices crying in the wilderness, filmmaker Stern does his best to make an argument for more civility in the election process. There’s not a lot of incensed, charged rhetoric in “American Chaos.” This makes the film a tamer version of a Michael Moore production, and to some, it’s an approach that is a little too objective, too milquetoast.
But what is clear is that there are reasonable, non-racist, Americans that have some perfectly rational reasons for sticking with Trump. This is not likely the result that Stern intended, however, it makes his film less a slanted screed and more one that approaches the subject with concerted and sincere interest in understanding and avoiding the politics of personal destruction. It’s too bad that’s not how the world works.