Director: Greg Whiteley
Release Date: January 24th, 2014
“I can’t fake it, treat
” then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney said as the political advisers and family members nearby deflated. They knew what that meant.
The scene, which occurred during the heated 2008 GOP primary battle between Romney and his rising political adversary, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), occurs early on in the new Netflix documentary, Mitt. The film premieres on Netflix at 11 AM today and offers a rarely-seen look at the former Governor and his family as they trudge through two seemingly-endless presidential campaigns.
Director Greg Whiteley was given great access to Romney during those campaigns, and he uses it to craft a delicate but commanding voyage into what it means to be a presidential candidate today. The feature begins and ends with the results of the 2012 election. We all know how the election ended but few of us know what it’s like working day-to-day on a presidential campaign and seeing the disparity between a candidate’s real personality and the caricature of him that’s presented to the public (“the flipping Mormon,” as Romney says).
Leaving superficiality aside, Mitt offers up an intimate look at this skilled politician, and a man who— if things had been different— could’ve been president of the United States.
When he notes he can’t “fake it,” he’s talking about the long odds against him in the 2008 primary. After losing Florida (thanks in part to Governor Charlie Crist’s endorsement of McCain), Romney knows that his opponent is unbeatable. The former Governor could, as some presidential aspirants would, continue to give the same stump speeches, the same talking points and the same fundraising calls he’s done a million times before. But he refuses. He can’t fake something he doesn’t believe in anymore.
And one of the most compelling aspects of Whiteley’s well-organized feature is how open the candidate is to the camera, even during moments of great sadness and heartbreak. While some of the candidate’s best-known attributes are on display (his business acumen, for one), the documentary also presents a more fully-rounded portrait of Romney and his family. The camera shows the family’s real frustration when Crist goes back on his word (he said he wouldn’t endorse a candidate primary) and Romney’s hesitance about the number of primary debates he has to endure (“how many more debates do I have to go to?” he asks). It’s here we see the man under the spotlight, adjusting to a non-stop campaign calendar that gives him little time to think.
Clocking in at a brisk 94 minutes, the film focuses its first third on the primary race in 2008, and its latter two sections on the 2012 general election—after Romney has decimated the relatively-weak primary field. In the presidential campaign, the documentary shows the Governor at his humblest. He speaks out about the good fortune that he was born into and his incredible pride for his father. After noting that his Dad—Michigan Governor George Romney— began life with nothing and ended up a successful businessman and politician, Mitt concedes “I started where he [George] ended up.”
For fans and critics alike, it’s hard not to admire and like the man himself (who, in one scene, even irons his own suit jacket while wearing it) after seeing this feature. It’s also hard not to look differently at presidential candidates, who know from history alone, how much of a sacrifice running for president is.
“My time on the stage is over, guys,” Romney says at the end, and it’s true. It’s just tough to think that while he was on the stage, we didn’t get to see him as he really was.
Review by: John Hanlon