As far as cinematic careers go, director Anthony Baxter has certainly carved out a curious niche. His debut documentary, “You’ve Been Trumped,” chronicled the promises made and rules broken as Donald Trump endeavored to build a world-class golf course on a pristine and environmentally diverse piece of Scotland shoreline. Now, a few years on from that film, Baster returns with Trump in his sights again for “A Dangerous Game.” Baxter is clearly angry about the real estate tycoon’s arrogance and the politicians in Scotland’s parliament who cater to his whims. However, the filmmaker’s fury is often unfocused and the documentary swings wildly in a bunch of directions but rarely lands any crucial punches.
You won’t need to have seen ‘Trumped’ (I haven’t) to dive into “A Dangerous Game,” as you’re given the basics of what you need to know, with the scope of ‘Dangerous Game’ expanding to allow the film stand up on its own. While Trump is part of the focus again as he tries to build a second golf course, on an even more beautiful patch of land, Baxter aims to take on the golf industry as a whole. But he bites off way more than he can handle, unable to pull the movie together into a cohesive narrative.
While one strand focuses on Trump’s continual battle in Scotland to push through his real estate plans, Baxter hopscotches over to Dubronik to follow the campaign mounting there to stop the development of giant golf resort on a hillside looking over the UNESCO heritage city and the Adriatic sea. This is by far the most compelling section of the documentary, with Baxter detailing the grassroots efforts to call a referendum on the golf site, and the galling reaction by those in power when the vote doesn’t go their way. Baxter’s coup is an interview with the mayor of the city, whose bumbling and embarrassing defense of the project says much about the interests he really serves. If only the rest of “A Dangerous Game” were as punchy.
The inability of the documentary to see any thematic or narrative tangent through to the end becomes a persistent issue. Concerns are somewhat raised about the environmental issues facing golf in terms of pesticides and the use of public, potable water but little other context is provided on how the sport could go green if it wanted to, nor does it let the viewer know if there are any initiatives underway (or not) by anybody in the industry. And sometimes Baxter just lets certain topics hang awkwardly. A visit to a golf expo in Las Vegas finds the director bombing a completely unrelated Q&A, and asking some rightfully baffled golf execs about the representation of women in the sport. It’s not the right people nor the right environment for that kind of knotty question to be asked, and the moment feels like a cheap piece sensationalism. Meanwhile, Baxter’s visit to a failing golf community built in the middle of the Nevada desert also waffles around any kind of concise statement, other than pointing out the folly of its ambition. And why the movie needed cutesy segments involving the director’s uncle’s golf ball collecting hobby, I’m still not quite clear on.
However, the film’s biggest missed opportunity comes when Baxter gets the opportunity to talk with both Donald Trump Jr. and the big man himself. There is a sense of defensiveness and intimidation on behalf of Baxter, who never really asks any truly probing questions. And this is a big problem for a man that Trump even acknowledges has become important enough in his universe to be granted face time with him. Trump still comes across as an idiotic blowhard, but no more than he usually does, and Baxter becomes so caught up in minor issues and pressing the businessman on innocuous details, their conversation never takes the big picture direction that it really should have.
Throughout the picture, Baxter often muddles the line between criticizing being people like Trump for simply being rich and addressing the specific actions they’ve done to draw the director’s ire. There is no doubt that money makes a lot of people look the other way, but the director often is so distracted by bank account sizes that he fails to really find the stinging exposé he thinks he’s creating. Folks like Alec Baldwin and Robert Kennedy Jr. throwing their voices into the chorus helps “A Dangerous Game” get to the green, but Baxter takes a three-putt on his way to the hole. [C-]