'The Swamp' Review: HBO documentary is more a Matt Gaetz biopic than a searing look at Washington corruption
The documentary follows conservative politicians over the course of one turbulent year as the lawmakers navigate a thicket of corrupting influences
When Donald Trump campaigned to become the 45th President of the United States, one of his favorite catchphrases was "drain the swamp", referring to corruption in Congress. HBO's latest documentary, 'The Swamp', takes a look at the status of "draining the swamp" by offering "a look behind the curtain of Washington politics", including in-depth interviews with three GOP congressmen. The three congressmen are Matt Gaetz, Ken Buck and Thomas Massie. Matt Gaetz is a Florida Representative, Ken Buck is a Colorado Representative and Thomas Massie is a Kentucky Representative. All three congressmen are huge supporters of Donald Trump, especially Gaetz, towards whom the documentary screentime is skewed.
The documentary follows conservative politicians over the course of one turbulent year as the lawmakers navigate a thicket of corrupting influences: the fundraising requirements by the National Republican Congressional Committee (and likewise by its Democratic counterpart, the DCCC) which incentivize endless campaigning. But one might ask, can you be staunch supporters of Trump and claim to eschew dirty politics when Trump himself has been accused of many misdeeds?
More than a look at "draining the swamp", 'The Swamp' feels like another press opportunity for Gaetz, who gets ample screentime as we see him take a call with the president, grab lunch with disgraced former Democrat congresswoman Katie Hill (who resigned after photos of her and a female staffer in a compromising position were released), and work on a bipartisan bill to require Congressional approval for supporting military action in Iran with Democrat Congressman Ro Khanna, though that bill got rejected. We also learn that Gaetz's shows are Ivanka Trump-approved.
In fact, Gaetz's buddy, Khanna, gets more screentime than Buck, the oldest of the three Republicans the documentary focuses on. Is that because the filmmakers did not know what to do with him? Buck is strongly pro-Second Amendment, though you might be remiss to think that this is influenced by donations from the National Rifle Association (NRA). Supporting gun rights is just good politics today when it comes to White rural identity.
There is a bit more screentime for Massie, who is a climate change denier who believes that more carbon dioxide is good for plants. Again, rather than being influenced by oil money, this is mainly because of what his constituents want, and in Kentucky, though there are no mines, support for the coal industry is strong.
For much of the documentary, it is difficult to make a connection between what the lawmakers say they want and what they really support. However, there is an influence of lobbyists on Washington and even if Trump has appointed more lobbyists than any other president, Gaetz, Buck and Massie still support him. This disconnect is perhaps why 'The Swamp' is not as convincing as it wants to be. While the documentary shows us there are problems, it does not really expose the corruption per se. It's easy to be left feeling confused and wonder whether the three politicians at the center of the documentary are really doing anything to address the concerns put forward.
If anything, 'The Swamp' won't be remembered for any of its uncompromising views because it does not have any, but rather for serving as a public relations opportunity, mainly for Matt Gaetz who is talented in working the cameras. After all, Gaetz is likely far from achieving his political goals.
'The Swamp' will be available to stream on HBO Max from August 5.