Film Review: Death of a NationEven diehard conservatives will throw up their hands.
The opening scene of Dinesh D'Souza's new documentary depicts Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun committing suicide in their bunker. Long before the painfully unendurable Death of a Nation reaches its conclusion, viewers looking for their own way out will be feeling envious.
D'Souza, recently the recipient of a presidential pardon for his crime of making illegal campaign contributions, makes a conservative-themed documentary every couple of years or so. To say that such previous efforts as 2016: Obama's America and Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party were hyperbolic and hysterical is an understatement. But the firebrand conservative commentator/filmmaker has outdone himself with this effort (co-written and co-directed by Bruce Schooley), which posits that the Democratic Party is "the party of tyranny and enslavement." Democrats, it seems, are merely fascists and Nazis, minus the cool iconography.
D'Souza fancies himself a historian. An early scene in the film features a young, bespectacled boy playing him, perusing a history book about the demise of various civilizations. As the title would indicate, he thinks America is headed down the same fateful path. Unless, of course, Donald Trump and the Republicans do something about it.
The doc's only credible sequence features vintage footage of numerous liberal politicians, media figures and late-night comedians belittling Trump's candidacy and laughing at the idea that he could get elected. Considering how many of those people woke up the day after the election with egg on their faces, you can't really blame D'Souza for taking a victory lap—even if he does obnoxiously give himself credit by claiming that his previous film "played a role" in the election upset.
And then the real fun begins, as D'Souza, with the aid of several obscure professors and authors, delivers a cinematic history lesson that would make even the administrators of Bob Jones University blanch. We're informed that the Nazi political platform could have easily been written by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. That the Holocaust was inspired by the obliteration of the Indians by "Jacksonian Democrats." That eugenics was a "progressive idea," and that the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele thought of himself as a "progressive." That slavery was an extreme form of socialism and that the goal of the Democrats was to turn America into "one big plantation." That the Ku Klux Klan was "the domestic terrorism arm of the Democratic Party." That Franklin Delano Roosevelt was enamored of fascism. And that Democrats, of course, assassinated Abraham Lincoln, to whom Trump is frequently compared in the film. (It's amazing what a pardon can buy you these days.) "Trump has Lincoln's inner toughness, but he needs the Republican Party to get behind him," D'Souza intones.
In an apparent effort to counter the liberal attacks on Trump over Charlottesville, D'Souza conducts a sit-down interview with white nationalist Richard Spencer. An intellectual summit meeting it's not, especially when Spencer, asked about his favorite presidents, names Andrew Jackson and James Polk, inexplicably leaving out Andrew Johnson.
Forget white nationalists and neo-Nazis who actually murder people. D'Souza seems mainly concerned with Antifa, as if the militant anti-fascist organization somehow represented mainstream liberals. And, of course, perennial conservative target George Soros comes under scrutiny, via a dramatized sequence in which he's depicted as a teenage Nazi collaborator. The sequence is only one of many poorly staged, cheesy historical reenactments featuring actors who wouldn't pass muster at a small-town dinner theatre. D'Souza is also frequently seen wandering around historical sites related to Nazi Germany with a concerned look on his face, although it's hard to tell whether he's thinking about America's fate or his frequent-flyer miles.
To break up the historical inaccuracies and distortions, the film includes several musical numbers. One features D'Souza's wife Debbie singing a patriotic song to the accompaniment of images of glowing wheat fields and snow-capped mountains. While the montage will do no favors for her musical career, it at least provides a valuable documentation of our natural wonders before the Environmental Protection Agency does away with them.
By the end of the doc, D'Souza inevitably compares Trump to Ronald Reagan. He declares Trump to be "the inheritor of the Reagan mantle" and shows footage of Reagan declaring, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" It's unfortunate that it was probably too late in the editing process to include, by way of comparison, Trump air-kissing Vladimir Putin while describing him as "extremely strong and powerful."
For all of its incendiary arguments, Death of a Nation is ultimately tedious and repetitive. No one expects, of course, that D'Souza would make a thoughtful, balanced or historically accurate documentary. But is it unreasonable to hope that he make one that doesn't bore the pants off us?--The Hollywood Reporter