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Director James D. Stern, right, speaks with John Ladd in the documentary American Chaos.

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

  • American Chaos
  • Produced and directed by: James. D. Stern
  • 90 minutes

rating

Would you like to be punched in the face for 90 minutes? Then do I have the film for you! In the summer of 2016, James D. Stern – a lifelong Democrat whose brother was Barack Obama’s chief climate-change negotiator – became so alarmed with the growing popularity of Donald Trump that he travelled into the heartland to listen to the candidate’s prospective voters. If you’ve read a newspaper sometime in the past two years, you’ll already be able to recite the catechism of grievances he heard: porous borders; dying coal; treasonous Hillary; immigrants who don’t want to eat hot dogs on the Fourth of July. (Wait, what?) Stern pledges to just listen rather than argue, and though what he hears is often bonkers and wholly unsupported by facts, he has compassion, at least for those who are not nakedly racist. Still, the few compelling moments in this otherwise infuriating exercise occur when he gently confronts the faithful with arguments undercutting their beliefs, and you can watch the cognitive dissonance break out in real time across their faces. That might make you smile a bit. But then you’ll just want to cry.

American Chaos opens Oct. 12 in Toronto, Oct. 15 in Montreal

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