Review: 'American Chaos' sheds little light on 2016 election

James D. Stern goes on the road to find out why Trump connects with voters in this dated-feeling documentary

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
James D. Stern in "American Chaos."

The 2016 election feels like ancient history, which is one of the problems with the well-intentioned-but-late-to-the-game “American Chaos.”

In the documentary, which unfolds during the 2016 presidential election, director James D. Stern — concerned with what looks like a looming Donald Trump win — goes on the road to find out why Trump is connecting with voters.

The self-proclaimed “political junkie” and diehard Democrat visits with Trump supporters in Florida, West Virginia and Arizona. What he learns isn’t particularly revelatory: those disenfranchised voters feel like their voice has gone unheard for far too long, and Trump makes them feel like he’s listening.

Stern attempts to reason with his subjects, but his soft, level-headed approach is naïve, a now distant relic of an earlier political era. What Stern fails to see is that he and his approach are a part of the problem.

Because he thinks he’s making a documentary about how Trump almost became President, he glosses over the campaign’s bigger issue: the deep-seated hatred of Hillary Clinton. He takes his subjects claims that she’s a felon, that she’s guilty of treason, that she only cares about money at face value, rather than investigating what is at the root of these concerns, which is the underlying story of the campaign.

And given the turmoil since the election, Stern’s focus on the election itself now feels quaint. Sure, it’s interesting how we got here, but now that we’re here there are much bigger issues at hand. “American Chaos” plays like it belongs in a time capsule, or that it came from one.

It doesn’t provide the insight it aims to and Stern isn’t a big enough personality to fill in the gaps. Forget fake news; “American Chaos” is yesterday’s news.


‘American Chaos’


Rated R for some language including sexual references

Running time: 90 minutes