Film Review: Hating BreitbartLove him or hate him, this documentary about the polarizing figure leaves you wanting more substance.
It’s not just its subject’s untimely death that makes Hating Breitbart feel maddeningly incomplete. Andrew Marcus’ documentary about the controversial media critic and self-admitted conservative provocateur paints only a sketchy portrait that fails to fully convey his background and motivations. Content to deliver a fly-on-the-wall examination of the charismatic figure as it recounts his more prominent battles with the so-called mainstream media and the left wing, the deceptively titled film mainly emerges as a hagiographic tribute.
Breitbart, who died of a heart ailment last year at the age of 43, apparently achieved a political conversion at the hands of his father-in-law, actor Orson Bean, who recounts how he once gave him a Rush Limbaugh book. That’s about all we learn of the reasons for his passionate loathing of the media establishment and big government, which he vigorously attacked through his work for Matt Drudge and eventually his own websites.
“The left pits people against each other... Divide and conquer is the strategy,” Breitbart says at one point, before vigorously repeating the phrase “I don’t want to live in that world” three times.
Filmed during the last two years of his life, the documentary largely concerns itself with four of his best-known media battles. First and foremost is his posting of videos by self-styled journalist James O’Keefe, who pretended to be a pimp soliciting funding for a brothel from all-too-cooperative employees of ACORN. This was followed by his exposure of a video of U.S. Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod’s speech in which she admitted to once denying a white farmer her help; his passionate defense of Tea Party protesters who were accused by several black congressman, including civil-rights pioneer John Lewis, of shouting racial epithets; and finally, in a sort of coda, his revelation of Anthony Weiner’s creepy Twitter posts.
With the undeniable exception of the last, all of these episodes are open to passionate debate, with charges flying back and forth about entrapment, selective editing, unsubstantiated allegations and so on. That the film begins with a series of clips of negative media coverage of the Tea Party movement indicates where its sympathies lie, although it’s careful to include commentary from several journalistic figures who sharply criticize Breitbart’s methods.
This is contrasted with glowing testimony by such figures as Michele Bachmann and Texas governor Rick Perry, the latter of whom declares, in his own inimitable manner, that “Andrew Breitbart is a stud!”
What ultimately emerges from the film is that Breitbart, for all his firebrand tendencies, was a clearly intelligent and likeable guy. Describing himself as having only two speeds, “jocularity and righteous indignation,” his willingness to make fun of himself is illustrated in footage of a silly photo shoot in which, among other things, he poses with an American flag wrapped around his bare torso.
As with so many politically themed docs, Hating Breitbart is a case of preaching to the choir. Lacking the objectivity or contextual analysis to more fully examine the important issues it raises, it’s a minor chapter in an unfinished story.
—The Hollywood Reporter