Film Reviews

Review: ‘Active Measures’

Hot Docs 2018


Active Measures (USA, 112 minutes)
Dir: Jack Bryan
Programme: Special Presentations. (World Premiere)

Active Measures is so loaded with information that Jack Bryan and his producers considered telling the story in a series. Watching this film back-to-back with Our New President, another Trump and Putin horror show screening at Hot Docs 2018, could bring on fear and loathing that even Hunter Thompson might have had trouble handling.

The liberal media speculates about how deep Donald Trump’s corruption goes, and the suspicious nature of his relationship with Vladimir Putin. Why is he so reluctant to censure the Russian President’s dictatorial rule of his country and undermining of fragile democratic institutions elsewhere? We are used to a lot of “allegedly,” and “probably,” and “as yet unproven” in the reportage.

Active Measures, on the other hand, goes straight to the jugular. The film marshals a bombardment of headlines, archival footage, and talking heads (Hillary Clinton, John McCain, various former ambassadors, CIA agents, journalists among them) to present its case. Clinton’s presence makes me a little uneasy, but Bryan’s presentation is forceful and convincing. The doc relentlessly enumerates places and people, calling out the Russian oligarchs and gangsters by name.

The film’s premise is that Russia with its relatively weak military must engage in political warfare to expand its power base. It deploys fake news and other attack modes and incites both the left and the right to divide and undermine other governments.

The film recounts the stories of Russian destabilization in the Ukraine, Estonia, and Georgia. Pro western leaders and political candidates got taken down in one way or another. Paul Manafort, who happens to be a Trump ally, aided and abetted in the Ukraine where anti-Russian political leader Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko got locked up. Sound familiar? Trump’s vow to imprison, not merely defeat a rival, is one of many ways he seems to be following Putin’s Playbook.

One of the participants in the doc says that the top prize for the Russians out to subvert a country is having an asset on the inside. Bryan quotes ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele’s allegation that the Russians turned Donald Trump long ago. According to the film, he was pressured to run for president as far back as 1999 because he was the perfect mark, a personality type whose insecurities could be manipulated.

The film backs up this “useful idiot” storyline with gales of information about Trump’s financial vulnerabilities and desperate need for a Russian cash lifeline, which came from shady people who needed to launder their money. One of the film’s biggest shockers is its statement that Trump Tower in News York has been “a paradise for money-laundering.” To clean up your dough, you bought a condo from The Donald. The film provides details on how certain schemes worked.

Brian’s film is a lengthy assemblage of volatile information, building a consolidation of the case against Trump and Putin we’ve been hearing about since the presidential election and inauguration. It has a force that is nightmarish: not only is the most powerful man in the world a criminal who ran his operation out of a 5th Avenue high rise, he is the puppet of a tyrant, The Kremlin Candidate.

Active Measures screens:
-Wed, May 2 at 3:45 PM at TIFF Lightbox
-Fri, May 4 at 6:15 PM at TIFF Lightbox

Hot Docs runs April 26 to May 6. Please visit hotdocs.ca for more info.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival!

Maurie Alioff writes about movies for publications off- and on-line, and is a screenwriter currently collaborating on a documentary featuring Bob Marley’s granddaughter while researching other Jamaica-related projects, including a magical-realist crime story drawing on stories he hears on the island. He has written for radio, journals and TV, taught screenwriting and been a contributing editor to various magazines.

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