Movie Review: ‘The Undefeated’
“The Undefeated,” the new political image-branding effort from ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is really a troop-rallying campaign infomercial as imagined by Michael Bay: hero-worshipping, crescendo-edited at a dizzying pace, thunderously repetitive and its own worst enemy as a two-hour, talking-points briefing.
Palin herself wasn’t interviewed for this ostensible documentary, made to underscore her leadership awesomeness by staunch supporter Stephen K. Bannon. But her blessing is there in voice-over, since Bannon uses the audiobook of her bestseller “Going Rogue” as narration glue.
Visually, she comes off less like a real person and more like a feisty, smiling, news-clip spirit, thumping the walls via press conference/stump speech footage, minus the on-air moments, such as her gaffe-riddled Katie Couric interview, which escalated the media’s fascination with her during the run-up to the 2008 presidential election.
The section of the film with the most potential to interest those least familiar with Palin’s achievements before her unsuccessful vice presidential bid is the intensive rundown of her Alaska tenure. But while it boldly positions Palin as a political outsider strong enough to take on establishment thought in both parties — and big oil when it came to the state’s energy (and cash) needs — the movie defensively frames her as a victim in need of saving from hateful comedians/pundits.
Republican men even get called “eunuchs” for their anti-Palin silence by interviewee Andrew Breitbart.
It’s a confusing message — when Bannon edits in footage of a pride of lions felling and chomping on a zebra, you’re unclear whether Palin is supposed to be the predator or the meal. The point of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, unattributed image of a Palin likeness being lynched, however, is clearer, though certainly of more questionable taste.
It’s also tough to reconcile the mama-grizzly fighter narrative with the feeble explanation given for why she resigned as governor. “The Undefeated” gives lip service to a cascade of ethics complaints levied against Palin, yet conveniently leaves out specifics about what they entailed. And after a torrent of details about the hard work surrounding her corruption-busting days in Alaska, the post-2008 narrative of her ever-increasing fame and influence leaves out the vast self-marketing machine she’s created to remain eminently visible.
Since propaganda traditionally eschews genuineness of feeling, it’s no surprise the film’s talking heads sound packaged rather than meaningful. Mostly Alaskan cohorts who were there for Palin’s legislative triumphs, they’re filmed against white backdrops and threaded into the movie’s breathless ascendancy story the way actors-playing-ordinary-people are in commercials for antacid relief or investment banks. Their sound bites come off like well-rehearsed testimonials rather than from-the-heart tidbits from intimates and confidantes.
By the time “The Undefeated” hits its final rallying-cry note, hinting with a hammer swing at the imagined glory of a 2012 presidential run, the patience of even die-hards might be tested by Bannon’s ain’t-she-perfect fervor. All Palin has to do is make those fans happy and run. But then she’d really have to live up to that title.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Playing at: AMC 30 at The Block, Orange County
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