“The Undefeated” — A Review

I had the opportunity tonight to watch Steve Bannon’s new film The Undefeated chronicling the political career of Sarah Palin. My wife and I attended our local AMC theater, where a small group–a little over two dozen–activists and interested parties had been gathered on short notice to view a rough cut of the movie, which is coming out on July 15th.

I really wanted this film to blow my socks off. That’s because I really think Sarah Palin is potentially a cure for what really ails the American body politic. I’m probably not going to make a lot of bonus points with Sarah Palin backers with this review, even considering that I am one myself.

Unfortunately, I came away from tonight’s viewing with mixed feelings. The movie will not do any harm at all to Palin’s reputation, and may help begin to repair her reputation around the margins, but I’m not sure that the movie–by itself–will have a huge impact. It didn’t knock my socks off. Palin fans and backers will enjoy it, mostly. People who retain open minds may allow themselves to be convinced to give Palin another look. But The Undefeated is not the “game changer” it could have–and maybe should have–been.

Now, realize that I’m probably somewhat atypical, in that I am fairly familiar with Palin’s entire political career. So, there wasn’t a lot in the film that really came as a surprise to me. There were a few details offered in the movie here and there that I hadn’t known before, but much of it was familiar territory to me. So this could have had an effect on how I saw the film. But I was trying to watch it with the eyes of someone who hadn’t heard much about Palin other than Tina Fey’s caricature. Someone like that who stays with the movie long enough will be rewarded with a much more realistic view of Sarah Palin. My worry is that a lot of those people won’t stay with the movie that long.

The film does assemble a biography of Palin in a moderately accessible visual form, but I have to agree with my wife’s comment “I thought the whole thing dragged.” My wife is someone who’s probably broadly sympathetic with Palin philosophically, but she really isn’t terribly political. I did make her read Going Rogue so a good part of the film’s content was also not totally new to her, either. And she does have a habit of dozing off in theaters, even if she really likes the movie, so take that as you will.

I thought that the middle portion of the movie, dealing with Palin’s term as Alaska governor and her successes with the AGIA and ACES negotiations, bordered on tedious. It really needed to be tightened up quite a bit, as I found myself wondering why I should care about the minutia of the deals that the movie was giving me. Yes, they were two key political successes of Palin in Alaska, but the movie got way too deep in the weeds on both initiatives, in my opinion. This strikes me as probably the single biggest weakness of the movie.

The notorious opening, featuring the media/leftist hate-fest launched against Palin, was actually somewhat underwhelming to me, based on the comments I had read beforehand on the various web sites. Yes, it was every bit as vicious as advertised, but I thought that the editing was too choppy–that Bannon did not spend enough time on many of the horrifying things people were saying about Palin, with the result that I didn’t think that it had as great an emotional impact as it could have. But, from what I’ve read elsewhere, its emotional impact on others has been plenty big enough. Your mileage may vary.

The last third of the movie, dealing with her Vice-Presidential run and post-2008 life, could have used a bit more fleshing out, I think. The Katie Couric interview should have been addressed, quite honestly. The failure to do so is another significant weakness of the movie.

On the positive, I thought the movie did do a good job of summarizing why Palin was forced from office. Also, her career in Alaska politics, comprising her terms as Wasilla mayor, Alaska Oil and Gas Commissioner, and her successful run for Alaska Governor were covered pretty well.

But, all in all, The Undefeated strikes me as a missed opportunity to re-set Palin’s reputation. The flaws in the movie will prevent it from having a huge impact outside the Palin community, I am afraid. And that is a real shame, because Sarah Palin deserves praise and admiration for stepping up to serve others instead of the vitriol that so many people so casually throw at her.

I’ll again throw the caveat in that I didn’t see the final cut, but a rough cut, so it’s possible that some of the tightening up that I think was needed occurred for the theatrical release.

But, from what I saw tonight, I’d have to chalk up The Undefeated as a missed opportunity. Only two grizzly cubs out of a possible five, I’m afraid.

If you want to remain in the dark about the real Sarah Palin, keep watching MSNBC and believing the Tina Fey straw-man version of Palin. If you want a glimpse at the real person, go see The Undefeated, even as flawed as it may be.