Nick Broomfield has made a career of documenting the lives of people inaccessible to him in death, among them Aileen Wournos, Kurt Cobain, and Biggie and Tupac. Now the British filmmaker turns his camera on a living celebrity, Sarah Palin, more elusive to him in life than even Courtney Love. The title of his new documentary, co-directed by Joan Churchill, is a reference to a promise made to Broomfield by Palin herself: After a slew of unanswered requests for her time, Broomfield catches up with the former Alaska governor at a book-signing, and after asking her for an interview, she responds, “I betcha I could do that!” Needless to say, her promise, like many she made from the time she rose to political prominence in Alaska until she spectacularly burned out on the D.C. political arena during her failed vice presidential candidacy, was one delivered with a pathologically gracious insincerity that Broomfield transforms, out of jokey, desperate necessity, into the doc’s thesis.
Palin’s father, Chuck Heath, would describe Sarah Palin: You Betcha! as a hit job, and insofar as it consists largely of none-too-flattering revelations about the ex-governor of Alaska by former friends and colleagues, who’s to argue with the spry septuagenarian? From Wasila, where Palin was raised and became mayor in 1996, to Juneau, Broomfield chats with disgruntled former aides, friends, and acquaintances of Palin, among them Levi Johnson’s sister and Walt Monegan, who was famously terminated from his position as Public Safety Commissioner for resisting persistent pressure from Palin to fire her former brother-in-law, Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten (also interviewed here). Even before Palin can disingenuously promise Broomfield an interview for a second time, again at a book-signing event, the Blackberry-obsessed politician has emerged as a monstrously vindictive and cagey hypocrite committed to social and political reform that only flatters her religious-extremist beliefs.
From a childhood friend busting the myth of Palin’s “Barracuda” nickname to a regurgitation of CrosshairsGate, this is character assassination, plain and simple, a calculated attempt on Broomfield’s part to place a roadblock in Palin’s 2012 bid for the White House. Broomfield, who, for better and for worse, is half the wit and interview hound that Michael Moore is, taps his feet while waiting for word from Palin’s camp, busying himself with shots of the enormous tree-like tower made of discarded moose and caribou antlers that Palin’s father keeps on his property. What else to do though? Broomfield wants to give Palin a voice, but once it becomes clear that she and her scarily spiteful supporters will never participate in a project that isn’t authored entirely by them, he settles for ridicule, which he needlessly dials up using a horror-film score and other stylistic tics that would even embarrass Moore. And yet, for all of Sarah Palin: You Betcha!’s wholesale condescension, you never doubt that Palin, conspicuous here by her willing absence, has gotten exactly what she deserves.