Roger Stone’s narcissistic villainy can’t be addressed with this gawking doc.
I’m not sure of documentary Get Me Roger Stone‘s intended audience besides Roger Stone himself. He’s been the ghoulishly self-promoting thug accompanying the most powerful Republicans in the country for the past few decades, but the filmmakers can’t seem to find anything to do besides give him the kind of surface-level damnation that works just as well as free advertising. The doc is a biographical career timeline of the professional liar, blackmailer, bullshit artist, and self-described Machiavellian political agent that doesn’t seem to serve many purposes beyond its Wikipedia-level scope.
It’s painful to watch, and not just for those who absorbed the election (and this administration) alongside a growing stable of ulcers. Those audience members will be well aware of the tactics coming from Stone, if not his political start. But the film also certainly isn’t for those who voted for Donald Trump. It’s too brutal for that. It’s rubbing their foolishness in their faces, saying “look how badly you were tricked, you morons.” It’s indicative of the paralytic power of outrage that this film knows its villain immediately, yet can’t do anything but stare.
And he is truly a villain if a minor one. Though filmmakers Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro, and Morgan Pehme amass amazingly intimate footage with Stone, you quickly realize he wouldn’t turn down a dozen cameras during his life’s most degrading moments. Then the footage is no longer impressive, it’s pathetic. In fact, the film substantiates that with footage of him denying a later-confessed series of ads looking for group sex. The same sentiment becomes clear when he disrobes to show off his Richard Nixon tattoo, which I can’t believe any self-respecting tattoo artist put on someone’s back without messing with them in some way. That’s one of the many free passes Stone’s gotten over his sociopathic career.
Stone looks like one of those Kentucky Fried Chicken commercials where they do an actor up like Colonel Sanders, only if they starred a giant mosquito. Underneath his gaudy wardrobe and expensive hair restoration lies a long, searching proboscis, beady eyes, and a knack for spreading viral disease. He’s more fluent in slander than English and he’ll be the first to admit it. If his political idol denied his crookedness, he’d be the first to admit it. He’s a human heist movie that’s painful plot only works because the casino keeps inviting him back to steal from them. Do you think people see the difference between entertainment and politics? As long as he’s allowed a free run of the political process (including media), Stone will be able to determine the answer to his own question.
The film tracks this villainous muppet, with suit and glasses oddly (yet specifically) selected so that he looks like a cartoon kingpin, in an unchallenging, somewhat informative chronology. The details may be old news but the talking heads are entertaining – something we become more and more cognizant of as the movie progresses. It’s hard not to question the idea that Stone would be significant if people didn’t do things like, for instance, make movies about him. There’s a question here that the film doesn’t engage with, which is “is it better to shine a spotlight on the vermin, or leave them in the dark?” Get Me Roger Stone chooses one option but doesn’t do much more than announcing the same bankruptcy of humanity that Stone has included in his own set of personal rules (helpfully intercut in tongue-in-cheek title cards) for years.
Stone’s role in various political campaigns won’t leave you thinking he’s a genius, but someone whose hyper-capitalistic, ultra-nihilistic views on politics have recently become fashionable. His move from hardcore lobbying efforts in D.C.’s most inner circles to an embrace of libertarianism is clearly, as per Stone, self-serving. The only difference between him and rigorous street masturbators is that he’d have you believe he invented street masturbation. He invented smear campaigns, he invented negative political ads. He was the first to lie and tell people he was a liar. He called America’s moral bluff and America folded.
Yet, it’s never a question of whether or not he’s as important as he thinks he is. For all his bluster, it’s quite clear – through some delightfully wry editing between clips of journalists, politicians, and former associates – that he’s simply a moneymaker, adopting loyalties and parties as they seem productive, lucrative, or particularly unscrupulous. His effect on these parties is up for debate – one that the documentary toys with only briefly in favor of emphasizing his cruelty. Whether he’s made a career out of “lying to make himself look worse than he actually was,” as one of the many experts pulled from America’s political sphere opines, or he’s truly been influential is hard to diagnose when so many of those interviewed, those creating history, have such close ties to him.
The only drama in the film comes when we reach its recent footage, where we see the treachery and backstabbing present in the Trump campaign even before its surprising success and world-threatening failures. Here is when we begin to understand where the film’s strengths lie.
After defining the way politics used to be and the way politics operate now, the film’s side-eyed glance at the firings, trash talk, and gossip among Trump’s advisers comes close to clarity. We see a blackmail circus that’s too juicy and profane for journalists to ignore because they think “a-ha, these are the things that will finally show people the dirty truth they need to change their beliefs,” but the exact opposite is true.
Some people see the juicy, profane, and unethical and embrace it because it’s unexpected and entertaining – something exploited by Stone’s lowest common denominator philosophy of society. When people are unhappy, any change will do. That goes for both sides of the political spectrum, neither of which will find solace here. The film is a change, but it’s neither hate or love, only a stomachache either way. You can be obsessed with what gave you food poisoning all you want, but eventually, you just have to realize that the only thing memorable about the offending meal was its putridity.