No one wants to see how the sausage is made. You might however want to see this film.
The Republican primary season of 2016 will inevitably be the subject of countless films and documentaries. One of the first, PACmen focuses not so much on its outcome or less predictable occurrences but on one of its, as President Trump would say, “losers,” being Republican Presidential candidate Dr Ben Carson.
Taking us inside a US Super Pac proclaiming to one and all “Run Ben Run,” PACmen is at once a general exploration of a turbulent period in US political history, combining news footage of the early days of the primaries with the filmmakers’ observations of the front-face of the Carson campaign, as well as the men and women behind it, some wielding very large amounts of money and others nothing more than a pile of yard-signs.
Reserving the acute commentary you would typically expect from any political documentary for the film’s final frames, Director Luke Walker chooses instead to settle in for the goings-on and happenstances throughout the bid. Casually observing the campaigners’ antics for the most part, the distinct framing of events, in spite of an evident and frequently pointed focus on some of the least exemplary aspects of Carson’s run, can be viewed as notably apolitical given the subject matter, the key framing of a Carson cut-out being folded up into pieces following a primary notwithstanding.
Forsaking a running commentary and vocally critical focus in favour of generally showing events as they unfold, PACmen, albeit while focusing on a finite and hotly contested period of recent history, doesn’t always make sense of what we are seeing or contextualise key events, to the extent that the full consequence of the happenings depicted, so soon after they took place, can be adequately regarded and understood. Too focusing all too little on why what happened to Carson actually happened and the eventual outcome of the early primaries, saving those snippets to later in the film, subjects irrevocably of tantamount interest to 2017 viewers post-election are notably absent from the film in lieu of an almost solitary focus on Carson’s campaign.
While there is much to be gleaned from the run and no end of, as one of the PACmen put it, “interesting” material to fill a feature-length documentary, the emphasis on the crux of Carson’s campaign, belaboured throughout the film, namely that his appeal comes from his being a Washington outsider, would have made for much more engaging viewing had there been an even marginally greater comparative focus on how this theme played out for his main opponent and what this foretold for the neurosurgeon.
Only nibbling at the ends, or more accurately beginnings of what is ultimately a much larger and greatly compelling story, PACmen nevertheless grants a keen insight into a period of political turmoil that will keep many transfixed now and well into the future.
PACmen is screening at the Sydney Film Festival