Hell to the Chief | Film Reviews | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Culture » Film Reviews

Hell to the Chief

#Unfit preaches a case against Trump to the choir

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DOC SHOP PRODUCTIONS
  • Doc Shop Productions
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They may be hard to remember right now, but allow me to take you back to the carefree days of July 2016. Multiplexes around the country (remember them?) were showing such movies as the Ghostbusters reboot, Star Trek Beyond and The BFG, but also, depending on where in the country you happened to be living, a "documentary" by filmmaker, author, convicted felon and unrepentant bullshit artist Dinesh D'Souza. It was titled Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party—and if you are reading this publication, you almost certainly didn't see it.

That's because, despite being released in an election year, Hillary's America was not remotely about offering ideas to sway anyone who was on the fence about their presidential voting choice. It was pure agitprop, a 106-Minutes-Hate pitched at the red-hat-wearing true believers, all built upon the ongoing American conservative fetishization of what the Republican and Democratic Parties were 50 or 100 years ago, rather than what they are now.

It's important to note that this prologue in no way suggests that director Dan Partland's #Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump is as intellectually dishonest as Hillary's America, or anything else tainted by association with D'Souza; there doesn't appear to be a fact out of place. It is, however, worth noting that #Unfit is just as unnecessary as Hillary's America, in the sense that its only conceivable audience is one that believes all of this already. In non-fiction filmmaking terms, it's less a piece of journalism than it is a concert film, playing the hits to an audience that knows what it wants to hear.

The focus of Partland's thesis is that Donald Trump is mentally ill—again, not exactly a notion that is going to inspire gasps of shock from the target audience. It is, however, interesting to watch some of the psychologists and psychiatrists interviewed for the film explain what might keep more of their colleagues from voicing similar warning calls: the "Goldwater Rule," established when mental-health professionals leveled similar charges against then-Republican nominee Barry Goldwater in 1964, and the notion of diagnosis without personal examination was rejected. The talking-heads here argue that ample evidence exists without needing to sit in a room with the guy, and besides, the Tarassof Rule—the requirement that a medical professional tell authorities when someone is an imminent threat to others—supersedes other considerations.

Thus follows a parade of evidence for what the professionals identify as the four building blocks of Trump's pathology: narcissism, paranoia, anti-social personality disorder and sadism. And again, it's not like any of this should be particularly surprising, though it might be an amusing diversion from all the horrifying material when veteran sportswriter Rick Reilly lays out Trump's long history of cheating at golf. We've spent a lot of time since the 2016 election exploring historical analogies to Trump's authoritarian streak; rest assured that in all the talk about Goldwater Rules and Tarassof Rules, nobody interviewed in #Unfit is going to get particularly worked up about Godwin's Law.

If there's anything particularly irritating about #Unfit, it's the way Partland tries to fold anti-Trump Republicans like George Conway and Bill Kristol into the mix. In the first place, laypeople—even laypeople who have had the opportunity to observe Trump up close—opining about his fitness for office isn't really what this is supposed to be about. But there's no excuse at all for allowing ex-White House staffer Anthony Scaramucci several minutes to defend Trump supporters with the ever-popular "economic anxiety" world's-tiniest-violin concert. As tempting as it might be to include voices from both sides of the "Trump is an asshole" aisle, that kind of soft-pedaling feels like a real case of not knowing your audience.

Partland gets in and out of #Unfit in a tidy 83 minutes, so it's not as though he hammers on the self-evident for too long—unless you begin from the premise that he didn't need to hammer on it at all. Like all election-year partisan filmmaking—whether from a Michael Moore or a Dinesh D'Souza—this is a movie that exists solely to rally the base. If the past four years have had you in a near-constant state of furious agitation, maybe you owe it to yourself to rest your nerves, and feel content that this movie isn't going to make you vote against Trump any harder.