By Bradley Lane
Andrew Callaghan has been a YouTube sensation since 2019. His videos are extremely idiosyncratic making them difficult to understand if you’ve never encountered him before. Uploading man-on-the-street interviews with groups on the edge of American culture, his videos have sketched a portrait of an America divided. From hardline Antifa protesters to far-right militias and even just rowdy music festivalgoers, Callaghan has an unparalleled ability as an interviewer to open his subjects up through his style of radical listening. Callaghan’s online success led to him pursuing an opportunity to make a feature film about his experiences on the ground, leading up to the Capitol riots on Jan. 6, 2020. What results is an utterly enthralling, sometimes funny, and often shocking firsthand account of the conditions that led some to storm the Capitol, and others to profit from that action.
Callaghan travels around in an RV, constantly seeking out the most high-profile stories happening in the continental United States. He has made a career of reading the temperature of the nation and being in the right place at the right time to capture some of the biggest news stories from a first-person perspective. Callaghan’s coverage of the news focuses on letting the people that are involved tell their story with as little obstruction as possible. This style of interviewing encourages his subjects to be as honest and as vulnerable as possible, leading to simultaneously touching and disturbing moments.
The reason these interviews can be so intense is that Callaghan explores some of the most fringe eccentric characters the nation has to offer. The film begins with a wannabe rapper named Joker who has his face tattooed extensively to match his namesake as he challenges another niche microcelebrity to a boxing match over their love of the same woman in impoverished suburban Florida. He is abrasive, unsympathetic and opportunistic, but Callaghan features him multiple times throughout the film. The not completely explicit message is that as off putting as some of his subjects may be, they represent people that are deserving of our attention and empathy.
If you’ve never seen Callaghan at work, it might be hard to picture, but thankfully the film is structured in a way that is welcoming to newcomers. He gives all the necessary context to understand the complicated circumstances that motivate the general populace to action, so when children start to rattle off conspiracy theorist talking points, you understand the tragedy of the moment. It is a significant work of documentary filmmaking suited for our current moment. By looking back on one of the most divisive points in modern American history it makes the case for how to avoid worse consequences in the future. This Place Rules is exclusively streaming on HBO Max. – 4/5 stars