The movies have no shortage of entertaining bastards. From Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor to Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko to Tom Cruise’s raging misogynist Frank T.J. Mackey, we’re often put in contact with assholes we love to hate. They may be completely evil, but they’re kinda fun to be around. Then again, they’re fictional characters who aren’t doing actual damage. We’d feel much differently if we came across them in the real world.
The new Netflix documentary Get Me Roger Stone, about ruthless conservative political operative and Trump emissary Roger Stone, is a potent reminder that monsters do walk among us. And while they may be superficially charming or compelling, at their core they’re pricks. I’m used to documentaries that make me despondent or enraged. But I can’t recall one that made me want to smash my laptop, over and over again, as I was watching it.
Seriously, fuck this guy.
Of course, such name-calling is oxygen to the 64-year-old strategist. When directors Dylan Bank, Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme ask Stone point-blank what he’d say to viewers who loathe him, he responds, “I revel in your hatred. Because if I weren’t effective, you wouldn’t hate me.”
This is a guy who proudly parades what he calls Stone’s Rules — his guide for how to win dirty in elections — and they include such hostile tidbits as “Past Is Fucking Prologue” and “The Only Thing Worse in Politics Than Being Wrong Is Being Boring.” Stone is shown in archival footage flipping off the camera, and in truth, he’s a walking middle finger, snottily rejecting the notion of civility and fairness as signs of weakness. He likes pissing people off, and Get Me Roger Stone doesn’t try to sugarcoat his toxic persona or make him a charming rogue. Instead, the filmmakers just let him talk.
Stone has been engaged in American politics for more than 50 years. In Get Me Roger Stone, he tells of his early revelation about how elections can be swayed. As a kid, he convinced his classmates that Richard Nixon, who was running for president against John F. Kennedy, was advocating that there be school on Saturdays. It was a complete lie, but it worked: When the school ran a mock election, Kennedy won by a landslide. “For the first time ever, I understood the value of disinformation,” Stone brags to the camera. And then, to amp up the viewer’s irritation, he throws in a poker-faced, “‘Course, I’ve never practiced it since then.”
That’s Stone’s idea of a joke: As a consultant to Nixon, Reagan and other GOP presidents, he’s frequently wielded questionable “facts” as a tool to influence voters. In addition, as was clear in the 2010 Alex Gibney documentary Client 9, which chronicled Eliot Spitzer’s fall from grace thanks to a sex scandal, Stone has a talent for adding bogus small details to a basically true story so that it has extra media sizzle. (With Spitzer, Stone encouraged a falsehood that the former New York governor liked to have sex with prostitutes while wearing black dress socks, which threw tabloid fuel on the scandal.)
So it’s no surprise that he’s been an adviser to Donald Trump for 30 years, encouraging him to run for president ever since the real-estate mogul published The Art of the Deal. Trump is interviewed for Get Me Roger Stone, which was filmed during the 2016 campaign and concludes with Election Day. Responding to questions concerning Stone’s pitbull tactics, Trump smiles and says in his leveling-with-you manner, “I’ve known him for a long time and he’s actually a quality guy, a nice guy.”
And again, the trio of directors could’ve angled for that — assembling the You-Just-Have-to-Get-to-Know-Him-to-Understand-He’s-Not-Really-Like-That narrative. For example, near the start of Get Me Roger Stone, Stone identifies himself flamboyantly as “an agent provocateur.” It’s the sort of nonsense bluster that can make an egomaniac endearing — just like Stone’s ridiculously bespoke suits, jacked physique and comical hair plugs, which make the top of his head look as plastic and helmet-like as a Ken doll’s. And there’s something faintly poignant about a guy who lives to antagonize, flaunting a tattoo of Nixon’s face on his back and theatrically smoking cigars like he’s a cartoon bad guy.
But like Trump, who recently has seemed to distance himself from the operative, Stone is unsympathetic because he’s channeled any possible insecurities into an all-consuming anger and exaggerated macho swagger. It’s the mentality of the bully — the sort of worldview our parents tried to convince us as kids might work on the playground but wouldn’t in the real world.
Stone doesn’t want our sympathy or affection. He just wants to kick our asses. It’s the only language he understands.