Jamie Meltzer’s self-conscious, sometimes unscrupulous doc takes on an abstruse cautionary tale for our age: A New Orleans citizen named Brandon Darby emerged as an anarchist-leaning activist in the wake of Katrina. His subsequent involvement with Occupy protesters and anti-corporate monkey-wrenchers, however, revealed him to be an FBI informant, putting fight-the-power compatriots in prison and speechifying at Tea Party rallies. What emerges isn’t a mystery but a mundane tale of egomania and opportunism. Celebrated on the right and pelted with death threats from the radical left, Darby seems like nothing more than a pilot fish: apolitical and self-justifying. (Having him perform as himself in reenactments only doubles down on the man’s uninterrogated narcissism.)
This shadowy film may ooze with espionage enigma, but Darby’s real-life role finds him casting himself as a crusader; he’s like a hipster Zelig, lost among media appearances, evasive social principle and TV-propagated naïveté. It’s fitting that this faux radical is now both a paranoid recluse and a YouTube darling of the Breitbart tribe—he’s as much a self-crafted meta-celebrity as a Kardashian, with just as much substance.
Follow Michael Atkinson on Twitter: @AtkinsonZero