The elections process in the United States has been under the public scrutiny since its inception. However, it is not often when the behind the scenes process of campaigns is analyzed —there is more focus on the public end than the machine that moves masses to exercise their democratic duty. The latter, when explored, can result fascinating and, at the same time, concerning. It is one of those aspects that is better left unchecked since what lies behind it might be something we would rather not know.
However, exploring the truth behind it and exposing the corruption in it is necessary — especially, when we live in a society where media is more accessible than ever. Dark Money (2018), is a documentary that ventures to do this, focusing on the subject that provides the title to it. Kimberly Reed (Prodigal Sons) takes the focus to Montana, where the influence of corporate money that leaves no trace helps to buy and sell elections. The “dark money” has turned into a political tool, and Reed explores through a series of interviews, documents, and media its influence. The amount of information covered in Dark Money is great, and it can be overwhelming when the viewer is not familiar with the topic.
This leads to the struggle that the documentary possesses: lasting over 90 minutes and going nonstop over news, backgrounds, and details, the narrative drags the film to a point where the structure feels unfocused. The back and forth with information does not follow a sequence that supports a strong narrative. While the points it touches are strong and do build upon the issue the documentary tackles, the way they are distributed throughout the film makes the cinematic experience weaker, when it could have easily been identified as a thought-provoking “political thriller.” The pacing of the editing adds to this issue, too. Rather than helping to condense the story and keep up a pace, it slows everything down.
Kimberly Reed is ambitious with this project, that cannot be denied. With less than 5 titles under her belt, the emerging filmmaker has continued her journey of tackling social issues that tend to be taboo, and she chooses to expose these issues under a light without shadows. Jay Arthur Sterrenberg (Brasslands, Untouchable), the co-writer of the feature, has a strong track on documentary filmmaking, and he definitely adds to the narrative of the story. Like Reed, he pursues the controversial topics that are better left unsaid, and the effort they put together to expose the corruption in campaign funding deserves recognition for placing together a plethora of information in one title.
For the average moviegoer, this might not be the first pick to watch, but Dark Money is a documentary that deserves a chance for exploring how candidates are “supported” in their efforts to win votes. Although not everything is left clear, hopefully, the viewer feels invited to investigate more details about the individuals and corporations involved in local and national politics.