“Certain scenes strike prompt strong reactions and moments of emotional relevance.”

Greg Whiteley’s Mitt opens on a tender moment on not only Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign but his entire life — the night of the 2012 election, where he recognizes that all hope is lost for winning the election and that Barack Obama will now be President of the United States until 2016. The scene shows Romney and much of his family around him, quiet, humble, ready to comfort him if he needs it, and Romney is surprising still as a statue, albeit the admittedly calculated motions he makes and the words he chooses to speak during the time. “Anyone know how to write a concession speech?,” he asks his family.

The election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will likely be the first presidential election I’ll reflect on with such clarity and memory seeing as when John Kerry challenged George W. Bush in 2004 politics mystified me ever so greatly. Even today, I think I understand less compared to what I knew then but I digress. Whiteley’s ninety minute documentary, which intimately chronicles Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2008 and again in 2012 where he actually managed to go head-to-head with current president Barack Obama, is a strong documentary in the sense that it works to humanize a man in a way that people on complete opposite sides of Romney’s agenda will even enjoy – the difficultly, however, will be getting such people to see the film.

Directed by
Greg Whiteley
Mitt Romney
Release Date
24 January 2014
Steve’s Grade: B

Thankfully, Whiteley has marketed and conducted the film in a manner that won’t alienate or infuriate. The film has no talk of Romney’s opinions on popular social or political issues, but rather, paints a picture where we can see a multi-million dollar politician as a human being, a rare instance that definitely deserves time on film. The first half hour of the film follows the Romney’s presidential campaign in 2008, showing them traveling across the United States, campaigning, politicking in several different towns and attending several Republican debates. This is new territory for Governor Mitt Romney, whose policies back home in Massachusetts have generated a diverse amount of reactions. He begins by making a pro/con list of running for president with his family by his side, and even engages in a lengthy discussion with a person orchestrating a meeting during the Republican debates that can only be described as one that channels “Curb Your Enthusiasm”-like territory.

After about a half hour, we begin tracking Romney’s campaign in 2012, which seemed to feature a more self-assured Romney, who had seemingly tried with all his might to shift away from the “flip-flopping” image he had cooked up with the media during his 2008 campaign. During the debates with President Obama, he looks as if he learned a lot from his four years off, when publicity was limited and the cameras were turned on something else. He appears sharper, more on-point with arguments and at times seemed like he would walk away with the presidency in November 2012.

Whiteley’s documentary is one I would love to see in its entirety, and by entirety, I mean put together with everything he shot. At ninety minutes, Mitt feels as if it experienced quite the editing process, as little time between 2008 and 2012 is made note of and the film seems to skate over the soundbite instances of Romney’s campaign such as the “47 percent” comment and the “let Detroit go bankrupt” quote. What we see is pretty remarkable footage but what we could’ve seen would really be unprecedented.

Certain scenes strike prompt strong reactions and moments of emotional relevance. One in particular is when Josh Romney tells Whiteley that speaks to his camera rather than the media’s cameras is a rarity. “To actually speak my mind is different,” Josh tells Whiteley’s camera in an instance that reminds us how many politicians and their families undoubtedly sugarcoat things or quietly simplify reactions in interviews to offer a lighter approach rather than the honest one many of us probably couldn’t handle. Another scene involves Romney illustrating the gap his dad had to breach from being born in Mexico with little money to venturing into the auto industry along with politics where Mitt Romney, himself, was born into wealth and was given a fine education since he was born, making the ground he covered not less admirable than his father’s but less extraordinary. Romney recognizes this and in a nearly-tearful sentiment, we begin to realize that maybe he wishes he hadn’t been given anything.

Whether Mitt Romney would make a better president than Barack Obama, at this point, is an irrelevant statement to Whiteley. He simply wants to show Romney’s circumstances during this time, and colors inside the lines on what it means to give up privacy in exchange for a chance at presidency. While the film may be shy on a great deal of information (we rarely even see VP-candidate Paul Ryan in the same frame as Mitt Romney), we are also fortunate to see quite a bit as well and Whiteley conducts Mitt with great maturity and insight into what it means to run for president in the modern day.

Review by Steve Pulaski, Lead Film Critic