Sarah Palin hagiography is neither fair nor balanced

The Undefeated (2011)

on July 19, 2011 by Mark Keizer

undefeatedreview.pngThe Undefeated says less about Sarah Palin than about the political and cultural environment that made her big screen beatification possible. Right wing radio and cable news was built on the premise that vintage media is a tightly organized plot to advance liberal interests and that Republicans needed a place to collectively receive the latest anti-left and pro-conservative thought. In radio and cable news, their efforts have been incredibly successful. In 2008, Hillary: The Movie was the Internet era's first notable attempt to release a biographical documentary into theaters that was pure political propaganda. While that unapologetic Hillary Clinton cheap shot became more noteworthy for the court battle that resulted, any notoriety for The Undefeated will come from the unprecedented fealty it shows its subject. The movie, directed by Stephen K. Bannon, is being released in the ten strategically selected cities where Palin fans are most likely to unwrap themselves from their American flags long enough to hear 118 minutes of "evidence" that Palin is the most flawless politician who ever lived. It serves the historical record only as example of how many Americans have come to believe that the traditional role of the press to question authority isn't just part of the liberal conspiracy, it's patently unpatriotic. In fact, even if Palin were a Democrat, The Undefeated should be vilified by those who respect the documentary form. A slick and polished dog whistle for those attuned to its message, box office results will be decent for a film of such limited marketing means.

Unlike any film in memory, audience turnout for The Undefeated is dependant upon bad reviews. There is no better way to court favor with the right than by attracting opprobrium from the elitist, college-educated left. Distributor ARC Entertainment has been providing screening opportunities for critics in big cities that are outside areas where the film is being released. In effect, bad reviews are being courted for use as proof of the film's truthiness. With its wall-to-wall bombastic music, selective memory, unanalyzed facts and hagiographic tone, The Undefeated was destined to be shredded by critics foolish enough to expect more from it than hero worship. Even George Washington, as noted in many documentaries, owned slaves. Here we are meant to believe that Palin has never taken a political misstep in her entire career. Indeed, a major component of Palin's appeal comes from the idea that she has stood up to the entrenched media, a supposedly monolithic force willfully ignoring her manifest political virtues so they can obsess about her destruction (the film's title is certainly a reference to, hold your laughter, surviving such an unconscionable mainstream media onslaught). Probably the most ridiculous image in a film replete with ridiculous images is the shot of a pride of lions chasing down and eating a poor, defenseless zebra. In the doc's opening montage, those lions are introduced as comics and talk show hosts like Rosie O'Donnell, Bill Maher, Howard Stern, Roseanne and David Letterman, all indulging in Hollywood's "new favorite pastime," beating up on the wilting flower from Wasilla.

If there's anything that'll grab the attention of right wing audiences faster than the slings and arrows of outraged liberals, it's the invoking of religion. Bannon, in what would be a joke if not taken so seriously, sprinkles his one-sided narrative with passages from the Bible. In this telling, Palin isn't just a soccer mom turned politician, connecting with the average American using her folksy combination of plain-spokenness and small town moxie. She is, in the words of one booster, fighting a "spiritual battle" where her foes aren't just comedians and MSNBC hosts, they are Democratic Hell spawn intent on destroying the very embodiment of righteousness that is Sarah Palin. The religious framing of Palin's efforts to outlast her enemies and "take back America" further disqualifies The Undefeated from being a serious analysis of her political career, as if it ever meant to be one. That career was only vaguely interesting until her surprise anointment as John McCain's 2008 vice presidential nominee. Utilizing audio excerpts from Palin's autobiography Going Rogue: An American Life, we are told (in "Act 1: The Servant's Heart") of her win as Wasilla mayor in 1996 over three term incumbent John Stein. Her tenure in the small town, which extended through a second term, was highlighted by the paving of roads, the opening of a Wal-Mart and a decrease in local government spending. Bannon then launches into an endless dissection of the career passage Palin constantly cites as proof of her outsider status. In 2003, she was appointed to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and later was named its ethics supervisor. Within months, she would file ethics complaints against oil and gas regulator Randy Ruedrich, who was also chairman of the state's Republican Party. Palin argued that Ruedrich was seeking campaign funds from the very industry he regulated and in November 2003, he resigned. In 2006, Palin won Alaska's gubernatorial election, defeating former Democratic governor Tony Knowles. In August 2008, she was named John McCain's running mate in that year's presidential election. After her loss to Barack Obama, Palin returned to the governorship of Alaska where in 2009 she resigned rather than fight ethics complaints that Bannon unsurprisingly deems "frivolous."

In recounting these events in the most flattering, least objective way imaginable, Bannon uncorks plenty of old video and snippets of local news reports. He also lines up a mighty array of Palin supporters who celebrate her recent Tea Party ascension in terms that are nothing short of patriot porn. At one point, she is lauded as a warrior taking up "the battle cry to fight for freedom." Bannon also condescends to Palin's female supporters, advancing the meaningless notion that Palin is "a real woman who lives a real life." Best is conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart who claims that attacks on Palin prove that "men no longer have a sense of chivalry," a fascinating assertion from the man who forced Shirley Sherrod to resign from her post with the Department of Agriculture by admittedly editing footage out of context to paint her as racist. However, to systematically refute each example Bannon uses to burnish Palin's obviously bulletproof credentials is not worth it. If he wants to make a movie where he lionizes Palin and shamelessly cherry picks the events of her career to advance her political fortunes, he can do that (although he may want to take the Bridge to Nowhere to meet Palin's ex-brother in law to discuss the Katie Couric interview that helped drive her into the coddling arms of Fox News). If he wants to foment hatred towards the left by implying that nasty and anonymous message board comments about Palin represent everyday liberal thought, he can also do that (although he may want to check some of those anti-Obama comment boards someday). If he wants to cry victimhood because those big, bad Hollywood liberals won't give Palin the free pass he so gracious grants her, he can do that, too (although he may want to remind himself how Bill Clinton was skewered nightly during the Monica Lewinsky scandal). The problem is ultimately not Stephen K. Bannon and his horrible excuse for a biographical documentary. It's not even Sarah Palin. The problem is a populace so adverse to contrary opinions that we're not as well informed as we believe. When a candidate or office holder is asked a tough question by a reporter, the faithful cry partisan politics. Agenda-pushing mixes with objective thought so thoroughly that many can't tell the difference and have stopped assuming there is a difference. Nowadays, many simply ingest whatever information confirms their existing beliefs and everything else is huffily dismissed as a product of brainwashing and ignorance born of too much MSNBC or Fox News. Of course, what happens when (un)informed voters circle their political wagons so tightly that no amount of daylight could possibly open their eyes? We get Sarah Palin. And The Undefeated.

Distributor: ARC Entertainment
Director: Stephen K. Bannon
Producers: Stephen K. Bannon, Glenn Bracken Evans, Dan Fluette
Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG-13 for brief, strong language.
Running time: 118 min
Release: July 15 ltd.


Tags: Stephen K. Bannon, Glenn Bracken Evans, Dan Fluette

read all Reviews »


  • pickettpw on 22 July 2011

    Could someone please move or delete the first comment here? It has little to no bearing on the topic at hand.

    Oh, and please get someone to write a second review who actually went into the theater not already knowing what they would think of it. (This guy didn't try to be impartial; I probably couldn't manage to be impartial, but please find someone better at it than us two)***

    I'll object to the above review in one simple point. The point that the movie makes is not that the Big Bad Media was looking for some conservative to destroy. Rather, in the attacks by the media you see little to no attempt to question Sarah Palin's policies as a civil servant because she was widely successful in helping Alaska, so their attempts to fight her are filled with unprofessional personal attacks.

    That is a very brief summary of only part of the film.

    Here's a second point, if you still feel like reading. The above review ignores the value of the film's efforts to show that Sarah Palin gave up a 6-figure income to blow the whistle on a leading member of here own party. She served Alaska with the priority of serving the people and few Americans know even this about the public face that is often mentioned...often ridiculed...but rarely actually analyzed for whether she has served well or is truly a hack from now-where's-ville.

    This story is unlike anything that you'll see in the mainstream media. If you doubt it...just go check it out!!!!!!!!!!!! Please! If you know little about Palin, yourself, learn about what she has accomplished...if you're willing, buy a $5 matinee ticket learn the other side to this story!

    Personal Belief:
    Until today I didn't know if I could be comfortable with any woman leading the country. After seeing what was accomplished by Sarah Palin and her team in Alaska, I'm convinced that a woman really can handle such a job. I would be comfortable and inspired for our future if Sarah Palin became President of the USA.

    Actually learn for yourself, in whatever way you choose, who Palin is, what she has done, and THEN judge for yourself

  • graham on 22 July 2011

    I have not seen the film yet. As the reviewer so brilliantly pointed out, if he hates it, I am almost sure to find at least some merit there.
    1) I'm sure our unbiased "down the middle" reviewer can produce a review of Al Gore's list of lies in which the reviewer "objectively" points out those lies and inaccuracies. Oh that's right, he probably still thinks the "science is in", and they are not lies.
    2) The thing that drives the reviewer his ilk over the edge is that this entire movement is not based on any one person or group. Sarah Palin has simply stated her allegience to the beliefs of people who ONLY RECENTLY began to implore their government to get out of things they should not be involved in, and perform the tasks that they were constitutionally bound to do. The reviewer and his pals believe in top down activism, top down government and a media that leans so far left that a return to the constitution is seen as "radical".

    Your type always seems to win the battle, since you travel in packs that shout down your opponents. Your opponents, with real lives, and find it intrudes on their normal existence to continually posture for battle with the likes of you. Though many battles have been lost to your throng, the overall campaign just might swing back to those who Palin has aligned herself with. In case you haven't noticed, in recent years the fumigating is starting to work. I give you Dan Rather, Katie Couric, Charles Gibson and Keith Oberman. It is one thing to have a view, state that view, and incorporate your view with the days news to come up with a product for entertainment. You and I would both say that is a fair description of talk radio. It is much different to shape your reporting of the days "hard news" with such a bias that you either don't report critical information or manufacture information to support your wishes.

    I have never read your "work" before, but I'll bet you can't produce another review where you so gleefully dive into what you see as inaccuracies in the documentary subject matter. I'm sure it didn't happen with the former VP's movie.

    My rant is far too political for a response to a movie review, and that is simply because your review is far too political and vitriolic for a movie review. You need to take your slanted reporting to the New York Times or MSNBC, call it reporting and make your daily attempts to drag public opinion to the left from there.

    As for me, I will now go to see the movie, and hope you continue to pass me and my type off as "...(un)informed voters", while you describe yourself as the " left". No surprise there.

  • userjim on 23 July 2011

    As a college educated professional who truly enjoys politics and intellectual conversation, I can say this documentary provides a larger prospective into Palin’s move into politics. It shows the levels of hatred that oozes from the progressives, as highlighted by the two, what shall I say; narcissistic commentators above. You obviously represent the typical progressive liberal. That-in-its-self most typically and clearly here, fully disqualifies you from having any objective non-biased review. This movie is actually for anyone who would like a better understanding of who she is and what progressives represent. Whether you like her or just appreciate hearing a prospective of others, this is well worth seeing. And for those like the commentators above (Gram excluded,) you should probably stay home and hate from there.

  • hotrodzoomguy on 29 July 2011

    The problem with this review is the fact the author doesn't take into account that this movie is an unapologetic look at Sarah Palin in a positive light.
    Anyone who knows one thing about her, knows she is the most maligned person in recent History.
    You don't have to look far to find negative, mostly unfair, vile comments and articles about Sarah Palin.
    The movie did exactly what it was intended to do, and presented a side to arah Palin that The American people have not gotten to see. The director didn't need to present a negative side. The nasty , lying hate filled Libs have done a real good job on that front.

What do you think?