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Since he claims to thrive on the hatred of those who think democracy is best served by honesty and decency in political campaigns, let’s all shout this together: Roger Stone is a swell guy. Loves his mama. Snappy dresser. Has helped sell Americans on some of their finest statesmen, from Richard M. Nixon to Donald J. Trump. We love ya, Rog. Here’s hoping our admiration doesn’t shrivel your weirdly pumped-up, expensively clothed physique.
Readers who don’t know who we’re talking about will be well served by Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme’s Get Me Roger Stone, a solid backgrounder on a political operative many believe to have changed the course of U.S. history. It should attract a fair number of eyeballs when it debuts on Netflix, appealing to those who love to hate him, those who think he’s a hero, and those who are just getting an inkling of his role in the system.
Has Stone stopped reading yet? Can we call him a cancer now without stroking his ego? The trio of directors here manage to seem to enjoy the man’s company — he’s an entertaining raconteur, especially if you can get past that hair, which looks nearly as unnatural as that of his orange-coiffed pal — while illustrating how much damage he has done to the way our country chooses its leaders. Did Donald J. Trump run on a promise to “drain the swamp”? Two of his right-hand men not only constructed the swamp, they imported the mosquitoes and gators. Probably from Florida, where the doc’s subject maintains a “Casa del Stone” and quips, nicely, that the state is “a sunny place for shady people.”
Back to that swamp: After some enjoyable childhood stuff — in which our villain learns the power of “disinformation” (read: blatant lies) in elementary school and finds himself tangentially related to Watergate at the ripe age of 19 — the film breezes through his early years working for political campaigns. It arrives in 1980, when he helped elect Ronald Reagan and then turned around to lobby the new administration. His freshly minted lobbying outfit Black, Manafort and Stone (yes, that Manafort) drew much criticism for its blatant influence peddling, and was called “The Torturer’s Lobby” for representing Third World dictators.
Stone was also a founder of the National Conservative Political Action Committee, one of the first groups to realize PACs could skirt post-Watergate campaign finance laws. Journalists Jane Mayer and Jeffrey Toobin help with the storytelling here, showing just how much Stone personifies many of the things Trump claimed to hate on the campaign trail.
The doc charts this influence-peddler’s yearning to make Trump a political contender, dating back to the 1980s when he saw a media-friendly vessel for his ideas: “I was like a jockey looking for a horse,” he says of Trump, and he first urged him to run for office in 1987. In between then and the successful Trump candidacy, Stone may have been responsible for another seemingly unlikely presidency: The late investigative reporter Wayne Barrett spins a yarn involving Trump, the Reform party, Pat Buchanan and some nasty rumors that could plausibly (if indirectly) account for the narrowness of 2000’s election.
Plenty of other dirty-tricks details ooze out of this cheerful doc. But the filmmakers give us more than we probably need when it comes to Stone’s public and behind-the-scenes work for Trump in 2016. Sure, it needs to establish Stone’s importance in this, the realization of a decades-old dream. But do we really have to watch the stump speeches, hateful rallies, and tick-tick-tick of that Electoral College map again?
Director-screenwriters: Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, Morgan Pehme
Producers: Shirel Kozak, Kara Elverson, Frank Morano, Fredrik Stanton, Morgan Pehme, Daniel DiMauro
Executive producers: Blair Foster
Directors of photography: Antonio Rossi, Ronan Killeen, Sam Cullman, Daniel DiMauro
Editor: Daniel DiMauro, Jason Pollard
Composer: Mark De Gli Antoni
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Documentary)
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