Sundance Film Review: ‘Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time’

'Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset
AP Photo/David Goldman

What's a hastily assembled Showtime doc doing at Sundance? Revealing how the Trump campaign looks different in hindsight.

If Hillary Clinton had won the election (sorry, I didn’t mean to depress you), “Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time” would never have played at Sundance, because it wouldn’t have existed. The movie, which was pieced together in record time, is a sharp, fun, disquieting, and fleetly edited chronicle of the entire campaign year, inside and outside the media bubble, with the focus held obsessively on Donald Trump’s rise.

The film’s directors — Ted Bourne, Mary Robertson, and Banks Tarver — drew on thousands of hours of footage shot for the weekly Showtime documentary series “The Circus,” which followed the acerbic pundit-reporters John Heilemann (a neurotically quick live wire who gets to cuss more than he did in his previous media jobs), Mark Halperin (the sage rabbinical one), and Mark McKinnon (genial third banana) on the campaign trail, getting up close to the action, sometimes in a way that only cinema vérité filmmakers used to be able to do, and unleashing their incisive (and often quite prophetic) commentary. In “Trumped,” the focus is almost exclusively on the Trump campaign, and it includes a couple of angles we haven’t seen before (an interview with Trump on his private jet, a visit to his Mar-a-Lago compound). But mostly the film re-assembles a great many things that we have seen.

So why would anyone want to sit through any of this again?

For masochistic political junkies, there’s a twitchy and morbid media-world fascination to seeing a replay of Trump’s greatest hits (his ride down the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy; the mocking of John McCain, Megyn Kelly, and New York Times reporter Serge F. Kovaleski; the first time he promised to build that wall). But the real reason to watch “Trumped” takes the form of a question: Knowing what we know now, does the evolution of the Trump campaign look different? Are there hidden signs of what was ultimately to come? And what of Trump himself? On the campaign trail, where his candidacy was rarely taken seriously by the mainstream media (until it was), and where a great many people believed that he could never win (until he did), does he look different in 20-20 hindsight?

In one important way he does: When you watch “Trumped,” there’s an eerie and inescapable sense, from early on in the campaign, that Trump knew he was going to win. You could argue, of course, that his whole style of in-your-face braggadocio is simply based on his pathological need to present himself as a “winner.” That’s the signature of the Trump brand, and since he ran the campaign much as he did his real-estate business — as a pugnacious swirl of smoke and mirrors — you could argue that his angry swagger and puffed-up invincibility during the campaign was just another meaningless piece of Trumpian advertising. Yet Trump, it’s clearer now, saw how the excitement at his rallies was building and catching fire, and he knew that the whole nature of fire is that it spreads. His son Donald Trump Jr. sums this up most perceptively when he observes, “It’s not a campaign anymore; it’s a movement.” He’s right. In “Trumped,” Trump’s bravado plays as less truculent, more onto something, as he brushes reporters aside with a thuggish gleam that says, “I don’t need you.”

The other thing that Trump grasped was the power of social media to create its own reality. In the interview on Trump’s jet, he’s tired and relaxed, and he talks about his revelation that Twitter had rendered the entire world of political advertising irrelevant. With a single tweet (he mimes punching one out), he could rule the mediasphere.

But the scariest insight offered by “Trumped” is to demolish a notion that became a liberal shibboleth: that Trump didn’t really want to be president. The movie presents clips from him in 1980 and 1987 that indicate otherwise. But more than that, as you observe him up close on that plane and backstage at several rallies, you taste the ferocity of his hunger. The movie suggests that he was always in this for real. But was it a dark desire for power and adoration, or did he actually think he was going to be helping people? In “Trumped,” there’s no indication that he sees a difference.


Sundance Film Review: 'Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time'

Reviewed at Base Camp, Sundance Film Festival, January 22, 2017. Running time: 101 MIN.


A Showtime production. Producer: Kevin Vargas. Executive producers: Ken Druckerman, Banks Tarver.


Directors: Ted Bourne, Mary Robertson, Banks Tarver. Camera (color, widescreen): Oliver Anderson, Andrew Dunn, Cameron Glendenning, Jeremy Gould, Laura Hudock, Thom Stukas, Matt Valentine. Editors: Alicia Ellis, Benji Kast, Mike LaHaie, Matthew Luhrman.


Donald Trump, Mark Halperin John Heilemann, Mark McKinnon.

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  1. Christina says:

    Comments may be edited? Why? Anyway, I don’t consider myself a hillbilly by any means. I voted for Trump and proud of it. He has kept his promises, if the dems would let him do his job he would be able to do great things. The healthcare bill was all repubs that have had 7 years to get their bill together…so that’s an embarrassment on their part. Why didn’t this documentary cover where she couldn’t come out and talk to ppl afterward? Why didn’t they cover her comments of her calling half of America racist, deplorable, etc? Why didn’t this documentary cover how Obama trashed Trump basically calling him part of the KKK and if anyone voted for him he would take it as a personal attack of his legacy? Where does Obama get off TELLING ppl who to vote for? Plus using taxpayor dollars campaining for Hillary. This documentary left a whole bunch of things out that were relevant to the Trump win. I didn’t even mention all of it and Russia had absolutely nothing to do with my vote. Liberal media need to wake the hell up and start reporting what actually happens instead of just what they deem necessary.

    • Nope says:

      You are the epidome of dumb. At least separate yourself from the world before you decide to collapse on yourself.

    • jsm1963 says:

      For Trump to do “great things” he will have to win over democrats. That’s how politics works.

      Trump did actively court the “KKK” vote.

      Obama’s campaigning was paid for by the campaign.

      As a Trump supporter you should take some ownership for the AHCA fiasco. He was voted into office on the promise of cheaper, better insurance that covered everyone. He quickly backed a bill that not only delivered none of that, it would have tossed 24 million people to the curb. The bill was ridiculous. Trump wasn’t interested in it. He wouldn’t put his name on it, didn’t care about the details and likely didn’t even know what was in it. You deserve better than this, but that’s your business.

      Make your own documentary.

  2. Jen Magnus says:

    THis movie made me so happy. They play the violin music constantly like a march of death while the pundits lose more and more of their sanity all the way to the Javits center where throngs of Hillary sycophants are crying on the floor at 2pm on election night. It is DELICIOUS to see!


  3. Fred Turk says:

    I watched it last night. One thing they could have explained better was why Comey re-opened Clinton’s email investigation on the eve of the election. No mention of Huma or Anthony Weiner and their shared computer nor that there were 250,000 emails on it. I don’t know if that was intentional or not but Comey’s role is considered critical by many.

  4. Jellysum says:

    @C Rubye Falz, the same thing happened in 2008, except it wasn’t hillbillies that time.

  5. Johnny Justice says:

    I continue to be amazed by how the media and the liberal elite continue to believe that somehow they are smarter and know more about what America needs then all of the people who delivered a victory for Trump. This movie is the perfect example – the movie glosses over the hundreds of despicable e-mails that evidence the complete hypocrisy of the media and the left by not addressing the substance of the e-mails and instead repeating the frankly laughable claim that unknown “Russians” hacked the e-mails for the purpose of helping to elect Trump. Russia invaded Ukraine on Obama’s watch – why would Russia fear Obama’ former Secretary of State as our President? Further, the documentary ignores the deep flaws of the Clinton campaign such as her calling 1/2 of American voters a “basket of deplorable” – such a belief by her should have disqualified Clinton just as Romney”s comments regarding 40 odd percent of the country being “takers” should have disqualified Romney. Further, no reference is made to the secret speeches given by Clinton to the big banks and other robber barons who contributed humdreds of millions of dollars in Super-PAC funds to her campaign – she was hardly a “woman of the people” and instead was Trump’s equal in terms of manipulating the system for her own benefit over the last 30 years.

    • Adam says:

      27 out of 100 eligible voters voted for Trump. When Clinton made the deplorable(s) statement, she certainly wasn’t referring to 50% of voters.

  6. Ann Potts says:

    This documentary needs a name change. “Echo Chamber: How the Media Elite Failed to Grasp the Biggest Political Upset Of All Time.”

  7. mtntexas says:

    When will the Liberal Media wake up and notice that half of U.S. voters (and the working ones, at that!) voted for and continue to support President Donald Trump? Did we choose an egomaniacal goober over a criminal enterprise a.k.a. Hillary? Possibly… but we can live with that. Has anyone else noticed that he’s following / completing EVERY campaign promise, with exception to “Lock Her Up!”?
    For more than eight years, we’ve endured a decline in world stature, crackheads and rap “stars in The White House, illegal immigrant infestation and a media barrage of socialistic bull pucky. Well… now it’s our turn.

    • Adam says:

      27 percent of the eligible US voters, voted for Trump. I didn’t vote for either, but to call Clinton a criminal enterprise with no evidence, make you/your comment seem silly. Trump hasn’t fulfilled any campaign promise. He hasn’t locked her up, he hasn’t built a wall, he hasn’t blocked Muslims from coming into the country, he hasn’t drained the swamp. So far, the only thing he has done has made a mockery of the presidency. To me Trump seems far more unstable, and dangerous than Clinton(and I couldn’t vote for either because they were both bad for the country).

  8. It’s not a “movement”. Just a bunch of hillbillies went out and voted (some for the first time ever). And it tipped the election. Many will regret it, but life is full of bad decisions (and consequences).

  9. Bill B. says:

    It honestly sounds like it might be interesting, but I am way done watching this egomaniac and hearing his alternative facts. If his face even shows up on my TV, the channel is changed.

  10. Jason says:

    This was only the greatest political upset within the elitist vacuum of corporate journalists. Every poll during the primaries had either Clinton losing to any republican or at best a toss up. Hell, even Keith Ellison publicly said she might lose, as she ran a fundraising machine and ignored the working class – and he was ridiculed. Now we’re stuck with a neo-fascist coated in cheeto dust. This movie sounds like a hack job.

    • Rich says:

      Huh? I am not a fan of Trump but he toasted 15 other republican candidates, continued to do what the RNC told him not to, was regularly destroyed in the media, was hit with his vulgar past more than once, was down and out in every poll with Clinton since “Gropegate” and was criticized by one and all for completely decimating the Republican party. Even election night he was down and Clinton supporters were dancing with glee. This was the greatest political upset ever in American history. (He even came out mid campaign and said he could kill someone and not lose a vote —- wtf)

  11. I. Rony says:

    Bigger than the Trump win, I think the most news organizations are not touting the fact that two people, in Trump & Bernie, neither of them being a full on Dem or Rep, were able to beat(or nearly beat in Bernie’s case) the status quo of the RNC vs. the DNC without all of that shadow banking PAC money(the HRC bathed herself in). Bernie with only small donations from his supporters & Trump by self financing.

    I get so infuriated watching the news media immediately try to push Bernie back into a DNC box & Trump into the RNC box. I am Bernie supporter, but I love watching Trump giving the status quo the middle finger & I am hopeful that his victory will encourage more people outside of the parties to enter future races knowing now that it can be done in more ways than one via Bernie & POTUS Trump next time:)

  12. Morris says:

    DEFINITELY seeing this film, and glad to see Trump doing what he said he would do.

  13. Britlover says:

    This will be one movie I will actually go see. Whatever your political bent, this campaign was like no other and we were all front row participants to the greatest political upset — ever! For me, it is delicious to watch this man actually DO what he says he would do!!!

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