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A documentary stitched together with a thousand sound bites, this entirely partisan account of the phenomenon that is Sarah Palin looks like a campaign film for a campaign that at least for the moment isn’t happening. Puzzlingly titled The Undefeated in that its heroine lost the last election in which she ran and subsequently stepped down from her job as governor of Alaska before her term was up, this narrowly conceived valentine calls upon a vast chorus of coworkers, friends and admirers to numbingly defend everything she’s ever said or done and to champion her as a maverick politician with a real connection to the people. Set to begin theatrical runs next week in select houses nationwide, this will attract media attention in the way that anything to do with Palin invariably does (all the more so because it’s favorable), but nothing about the film earmarks it as a must-see anywhere other than in the living rooms of die-hard loyalists.
Among other reasons to watch Stephen K. Bannon’s industrious piece of hagiolatry on the small rather than big screen are that you could fast-forward through the innumerable redundancies that push the feature to an unconscionable two-hour running time and could turn down the sound so as not to be quite so forcefully assaulted by the wall-to-wall musical score that drowns the film in its roiling self-importance. Even if the picture were good, this score might have ruined it.
Chronological chapters focus on Palin’s success as mayor of Wasilla, said to have become a boom town during her term; her insurgent 2006 run to unseat an entrenched and corrupt Republican governor, her startling selection as John McCain’s running mate in the 2008 presidential contest and, post-loss, her resignation as governor and subsequent emergence in the vanguard of the Tea Party movement.
Cramming the opening stretch with a flurry of media attacks on Palin that reach a level of vulgarity unrivaled by anything unleashed upon George W. Bush, Bannon uses his onscreen commentators (Mark Levin and Andrew Breitbart being the only remotely household names) to portray his subject as misunderstood, down-to-earth, hard-working, ethically righteous and, amazingly enough, never wrong.
Once you realize the film is just going to be a string of encomiums against a backdrop of frantically edited archival material in which few shots are allowed to stay onscreen longer than three seconds, it’s clear that no meaningful analysis of the woman’s career or political agenda will be forthcoming. There’s nothing about her personal life, international inexperience or interview gaffes, and Palin herself was not interviewed for the film, although a few excerpts are used from her audio recording of her book Going Rogue: An American Life.
However, if one attempts to discern any underlying intent on Bannon’s part, it would seem to be to position Palin so outside of the GOP mainstream as to suggest that her future might not even lie within it. Friendly commentators note how she seriously pissed off Alaskan Republicans by taking on the big oil/legislative fat cat constituency known as the “Corrupt Bastards Club” and “blew the whistle on her own party;” that her hero is the Jimmy Stewart character in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; how she herself maintains she is “not a member of the permanent political establishment” and that she could represent a thorn in the side of mainstream Republicans just as much as she poses “an existential threat to the left.”
One wonders if Bannon made The Undefeated in the full expectation that Palin would compete for the 2012 presidential nomination, whereas the suspicion now is that the still-youthful politician, sensing unfavorable odds against defeating an incumbent president, may already have decided to sit it out until 2016. That would give other documakers plenty of time to cook up new and, one would hope, far more revealing films about Sarah Palin, pro and con.
Opens: July 15 (ARC Entertainment)
Production: Victory Film Group
Director-Writer: Stephen K. Bannon, inspired by the book “Going Rogue: An American Life” by Sarah Palin
Producers: Stephen K. Bannon, Glenn Bracken Evans, Dan Fleuette
Executive Producers: G. Williams, Shirley Evans, Randy West, Linda West, W.B. Evans, Sally Fischer, Jim Fischer
Director of Photography: Dain Valverde
Editor: Dain Valverde
Music: David Cebert
PG-13 rating, 118 minutes
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