Review: ‘PACmen’

Hot Docs 2017

2 mins read

(USA/Australia, 92 min.
Dir. Luke Walker
Programme: Democrazy (World Premiere)


There’s something both sombre and quaint about Luke Walker’s PACmen. It’s an inside look at one of the most powerful forces in American elections, the political action committees (PAC) that exercise their democratic mandate in the form of fund raising, getting out the vote, and in this case, cajoling a reluctant candidate to run.

That candidate was Dr. Ben Carson, who rejoined the Republican Party and ran for the nomination after being urged to do so by PACs. With a series of quirky characters doing their best to drum up noise about the evangelical neurosurgeon with a somnolent disposition, PACmen highlights the quaintly old-fashioned but often-scary community that saw victory last November, just not for their own candidate. Carson’s rise and fall as a candidate and re-emergence as the current Secretary of House and Urban Development would play very differently as an anomaly rather than as a symptom of current messianic mood of the right wing in the States if Trump hadn’t won.

Lacking in a straight journalistic through line the film feels a bit disjointed, and the strangeness of some of some PAC participants’ statements feels more chilling than anything else. Equally the film doesn’t manage to humanize the PACmen for those on the other side of the political spectrum, in a way that A.J. Schnack’s sublime Caucus managed to do with the immediately repulsive Rick Santorum.

Ultimately, PACmen lacks focus and bite, neither skewering its subjects nor really giving insight as to what makes them tick. Since the recent U.S. Presidential election was full of fascinating stories, the fact that PACmen only scratches at its surface is all the more frustrating. This may well be an election that’s talked about for generations, while unfortunately this documentary doesn’t feel like it will have the same lasting power.

PACmen screens:
-Tuesday, May 2 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 7:00 PM
-Wednesday, May 3 at Hart House at 3:30 PM
-Friday, May 5 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 11:00 AM
-Saturday, May 6 at Fox Theatre at 12:30 PM


Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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