Directed by: Jack Bryan
Length: 110 minutes
“Active Measures” is the first major documentary to explore the allegations that then candidate Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian state during the 2016 presidential election. It spends much of its early runtime looking at the rise of Vladimir Putin in the Russian state and Donald Trump’s rise, fall, and resurgence (with the help of some Russian banks and laundering) as a prominent U.S. businessman. Building on that foundation, the film becomes a convincing indictment of the Trump campaign and the Russian state over election meddling and attempts to increase the discord between those on different ends of the political spectrum in America.
This is a well-made documentary and is almost excessively thorough in analyzing all the different players in this crime against democracy. Very little of the information provided over its nearly two hour run time will be surprising to anyone has consumed mainstream news, but seeing it all laid out in one work is stunning. If you’re the type of person who regularly reads this blog and has not been turned off by any prior political comments I’ve made, you will be outraged at the current administration (if you aren’t already) when this film is over.
The film ends with a call to action that should inspire sensible members of both political parties, not just Democrats, to head to voting booth this November and give Trump the terrible job evaluation he deserves. In fact, Bryan strengthen his credibility substantially by including conservative voices, such as Evan McMullin, who worked for House Republicans and launched a campaign as an independent after hearing leaders of his party speculate privately about Trump’s connections to Russia. The late John McCain is also featured. His presence in this project is a gut punch. His loss still weighs heavily on many Americans, and seeing him here serves as a reminder of integrity that is in short supply in Washington, and in particular the Oval Office, these days.
The film does occasionally take some missteps. It spends some time shinning a light on the personal bitterness Putin held towards Hillary Clinton. We are shown a clip of Putin making the following remark about then Secretary of State Clinton and
“It’s better not to argue with women, Mrs. Clinton has never been too graceful in her statements…Maybe weakness isn’t the worst quality for a woman.”
His bitterness, the filmmakers allege, results from his claim that Clinton encouraged protests against him after his 2012 election win, which was almost certainly illegitimate. This makes for an interesting point but runs somewhat counter to the film’s two main arguments: That Trump had extensive ties to Russia going back to 1984 and that’s why they preferred him, and that the meddling isn’t about bitterness towards any one person or political party, but the US system of democracy in general. It is asserted that Russia wants to harm America by dividing its people, and may do that in the future by supporting a divisive Democratic candidate.
There are also some minor stylistic issues with the film. The decoupage relies heavily on cuts to graphics that recreate newspaper headlines. The most important words that Bryan wants the audience to read are highlighted in yellow, but on several occasions these graphics only appear onscreen for one or two seconds, which is insufficient time for the audience to read them. This is only an issue with several early cuts. As the film goes on, the editing gives the viewer more time process everything the film is throwing out, which is still a lot.
The B-roll used here is excellent and provides further proof that as these accusations are being hurled at Trump, words that have previously left his mouth work against him every single time. In one clip from The Late Show with David Letterman, he is asked if he knows any mobsters. His response is that he has met some in the past and “they are nice people, you just don’t want to owe them money. Don’t owe them money!” In a different clip with Fox News, Trump is asked if he has a relationship with Putin, and he responds with “I don’t want to say.”
I’m surprised it has taken this long for a documentary on Trump and Russia collusion to be released, but I’m glad this one has been made as carefully as it was. The film has not yet achieved a wide release, but it is available on Vudu, and I recommend checking it out.