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Roger Stone, the Cockroach of American Politics

Get Me Roger Stone opens with Stone looking on from the shadows as Trump, a giant visage on the screen, gives his “law and order” acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in July of 2016. The message is unmistakable: Roger Stone helped create Donald Trump.

Like its subject, Get Me Roger Stone is enormously and effortlessly entertaining.

Trump’s outsized presence turns out to be one of the movie’s great weaknesses: Too much of it feels like one long inevitable march to Trump. At times, this works to great effect, especially when we see Stone’s role in degrading public trust in government and pouring corrupt money into elections. But other times it feels like a host trying to resist a virus. Stone himself, with his Cheshire Cat grin, proves elusive, lost somewhere in the role he wants to project. “My name is Roger Stone and I’m an agent provocateur,” he says while sipping a James Bond-ish martini at the film’s beginning.

Still, like its subject, Get Me Roger Stone is enormously and effortlessly entertaining. A cast of talking heads—Jane Mayer, the late Wayne Barrett, Jeffrey Toobin, a surprisingly thoughtful Tucker Carlson—provides context and righteous indignation. (On the last point, Barrett and New York Daily News columnist Harry Siegel are both indispensable.) Stone portrays himself as a trickster practically from birth and a fully-formed ratfucker—a term of art for those who specialize in political dirty tricks—by the time he entered the political big leagues as a mere teenager. He was the youngest person to go before the Watergate grand jury, which he is still very proud of. And his love for Richard Nixon seems entirely genuine, though Nixon’s appeal is more a matter of style than substance. Stone admires Nixon, whose face he has tattooed on his back, for his perseverance and his “anti-elitism,” which for Stone mostly means telling liberals to piss off.

Stone’s mostly conventional work for Reagan is presented as a precursor for the creation of the lobbying group Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, which would become infamous for representing some of the world’s worst dictators and human rights abusers. The film moves at a brisk pace when dealing with Stone’s backstory, and that’s a shame only when dealing with this chapter in Stone’s life, which may very well be his most important endeavor. Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly helped transform Washington, D.C., and American political culture in more insidious and overt ways than Stone’s other claims to fame, with the exception of his role in creating the Donald Trump we know today.

As Siegel notes, the firm pioneered one of Washington’s most destructive revolving doors—they elected politicians, then lobbied them—and helped finesse the reputations of some true monsters, like Mobutu Sese Seko. The firm “really created the modern sleazeball lobbyist,” Toobin says. Stone, typically, doesn’t give a shit. “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist,” Stone shrugs. “I’m proud of the job I did at Black, Manafort and Stone because I made a lot of money.” These sections are Get Me Roger Stone at its best, when the film depicts Stone as the embodiment of everything rotten in American politics without getting too caught up in his web.

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