In recent years, self-proclaimed Trump svengali and pinstripe enthusiast Roger Stone has often been compared to DC Comics character the Penguin. Christoffer Guldbrandsen’s “A Storm Foretold,” a wild-ride doc that grants all-areas access to Stone over a three-year period starting with his 2019 indictment and subsequent pardon, suggests this is not strictly fair. For one thing, as the film begins, Stone is smoking the chunkiest cigar you have ever seen, rather than the more canonically acceptable cigarette holder wielded by the cartoon villain. For another, while Stone has more enemies that you can shake a fat stogie at, no single superhero has yet emerged to challenge him. If he is the Penguin, shouldn’t there also be a Batman?
Stone is introduced to us sitting on his back patio in relaxed, garrulous form. One would almost say “genial” except that from the start, Stone’s relationship with Guldbrandsen, who is sometimes glimpsed in shy profile or heard off-camera, is more about derisive taunting than friendliness. In a parodic German accent, while mixing himself roughly a quart of vodka martini, Stone riffs on the Danish filmmaker’s surname because he thinks it sounds Nazi (which is fun because thereafter he mostly refers to Guldbrandsen as a communist). He bullies underlings, drops spiteful rumors about adversaries. And sometimes he’ll retract usage permission for whatever he’s just said, but jokily enough that you can’t tell if he means it. Ditto a moment when Guldbrandsen records him ranting about how he’s finally going to support Trump’s impeachment (a fascinating hypocrisy in light of Stone’s supportive appearance at Trump’s 2024 bid announcement) and he tells him casually, “If you use this, I will murder you.”
As of this writing, Guldbrandsen remains unmurdered. That’s not to say that filming “A Storm Foretold” never killed him. Halfway through, Stone suddenly agrees to work with a different documentary crew, and Guldbrandsen goes home to Copenhagen in a funk. A reunion is eventually arranged, but on the eve of his return to the States, Guldbrandsen suffers a heart attack, which plays out in full on CCTV: the director collapsing at his gym and apparently briefly dying before being revived by CPR.
Stone’s response to the news of the cardiac event is to judge it the perfect time to get in a snide yet muddled would-be zinger about Denmark’s socialized health care. Even when events take a dark turn as Trump, Stone’s increasingly out-of-control protégé, contests the 2020 election, a frightened Stone fails to perceive any connection between flippant remarks he made, like “Let’s skip the voting and get right to the violence!” or “See an antifa, shoot to kill!,” and the riots breaking out on Capitol Hill.
It’s hard to stomach that America can really have been so played by a man who shills “nutriceuticals” on Alex Jones’ Infowars show. A man who wears a “Roger Stone Did Nothing Wrong” T-shirt, a sartorial choice that just screams innocence. A man who arranges public appearances soundtracked to a presumably personally commissioned rap that goes “Bitches wanna fuck me like I’m Roger Stone.” Yet “A Storm Foretold” tracks all these incidents and more, as cohort after cohort seems to fall in line, from rally attendees who cheer for him, to funders who slip him checks in hotel ballrooms, to right-wing pundits who leap to his defense, to the Proud Boys who have appointed themselves Stone’s personal bodyguards, and sit around his kitchen playing soldier, apparently not suspecting that Stone himself may scarcely believe a word coming out of his mouth.
It transpires later that he cut the other documentary crew loose because “their agenda was to do a hit job on Roger Stone.” That prompts the question: What does he think this film is? Is it possible Roger Stone — the great manipulator, the master puppeteer, the power behind the power — thinks Guldbrandsen’s entertaining, at times jaw-dropping, yet deeply dismaying “A Storm Foretold” is going to show him in a good light? Actually what it reveals is that Stone and his set play at presidential politics like it’s their private game. And not the 3D chess they’d like you to believe, but something far less strategically sophisticated — a round of kids’ Monopoly, perhaps, in which the only things for sure are that Roger Stone always plays as the top hat and he always gets out of jail free.