Before the screening, Bannon had jokingly called the film “a John Ford Western about Sarah Palin.” Asked about the comparison afterward, he cringed and emphasized that he didn’t want to compare himself to the legendary director. But he did acknowledge that “in John Ford’s movies, Monument Valley is playing West Texas. In this film, Alaska is a character.” He emphasizes the unique culture of the state with a combination of historical footage, sweeping helicopter shots cruising through breathtaking vistas, and a lengthy focus on how living in the dramatic environment shapes Alaska’s people.
Once the film catches up to where most of America met Palin — when she joined John McCain on the campaign trail — it loses a bit of its narrative punch. For those who have followed the news, the story of the convention speech, the dramatic surge her selection provided to the McCain campaign, and the financial meltdown are familiar territory. Palin’s decision to resign is given a better explanation and justification here than in her actual resignation speech.
Tammy Bruce, Mark Levin, and Andrew Breitbart are featured heavily in this section, and with no disrespect intended to any of them, Palin’s story is more powerfully told through the voices of Alaskans obscure to most Americans than through the semi-familiar voices of conservative pundits. This is not to say this section doesn’t pack its punches, one of which is a particularly impassioned prosecutorial indictment of the Republican party establishment. (Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, along with House leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor, might want to step out for popcorn at this point.) Breitbart in particular gets a memorable denunciation of “eunuchs” on the cultural right in Washington and New York City. There’s some extraneous commentary, but Levin does astutely note that the Palin campaign rallies in autumn 2008 can easily be seen as embryonic Tea Party rallies, and the film ably contends that Palin’s values and approach to governing experienced a vivid national vindication in the historic Republican wins in the 2010 midterms. This appears to be why Bannon picked the title The Undefeated, already being mocked by the familiar chorus. One of the last comments from Breitbart is, “Thank God Sarah Palin refused to accept the premise of her own destruction.”
Bannon notes that the film implicitly contrasts two images of Palin: First her convention debut, on a bright stage, in perfectly polished form (her choice to dress in off-white looks almost symbolic in retrospect), and then her appearance on a rainy, gray day in Wisconsin in spring 2011, politically bruised but unyielding, much farther along in her life’s journey and much more tested by hardships, setbacks, and the difficult climb confronted by any great protagonist. Add one more countenance to The Hero With a Thousand Faces.