When Donald Trump is asked about the January 6 attack on the Capitol in Alex Holder’s Discovery + docuseries Unprecedentedit both downplays the insurrection and affirms the madness of the mob.
“Well, it was a sad day, but it was a day of great anger in our country,” Trump said, months after the attack.
In their interviews, Trump’s children decline to comment on that day.
The same goes for Vice President Mike Pence, despite having one of the more candid moments in the docuseries. About to sit down for an interview six days after the siege, Pence receives an email with the Democrats’ resolution asking him to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. “Yeah, excellent,” Pence told an aide. “Tell Zach to print me a hard copy for the trip home.” But Pence does not elaborate and instead launches into robotic talking points.
Holder’s three-part project, which debuted on Sunday, drew attention due to the filmmaker’s appearance before the Jan. 6 Committee last month when he cooperated with their subpoena and provided them with his pictures.
This quickly raised the possibility that the filmmaker, granted access to Trump and his family during the fall 2020 campaign and beyond, may have captured some kind of unexpected bombshell, just as the committee seeks to fill the shortcomings of the former president’s intentions and motives. , and what his children knew and did about it. In footage released before the project began, Ivanka Trump was shown in a December 2020 interview seemingly supporting her father’s post-election challenge while, in her January 6 Committee testimony, she said she accepted Attorney General William Barr’s claims that the fraud allegations were false.
As unusual as it is for Holder, relatively new to the documentary scene, to land interviews with the president and his children, the final cut of Unprecedented isn’t particularly heavy in the wall-flying moments, and the behind-the-scenes encounters aren’t all that surprising, perhaps showing the limits of the filmmaker’s access.
Some moments, like a campaign fundraising phone bank, are intriguing, but even then there are instances of the Trumps splitting up for private conversations or asking him to turn off the camera. In sit-down interviews, Trump never backs down from his bogus claim that the election was a fraud, while his children say nothing disloyal. And although it is mentioned that after the election Ivanka wanted her father to give in, she does not talk about it. Holder includes several clips of times when Trump tries to stage his interviews, showing how concerned he was about his visual image, even complaining once that the image looked too “orange.”
That’s largely left to the talking heads of the project, including Phil Rucker of The Washington Post and McKay Coppins of Atlantic, to act as a sort of truth-teller, framing the post-election period as another example in which Trump refused to be tarnished by a loss. As we know from the January 6 Committee, there were a number of figures in Trump’s orbit, most recently Cassidy Hutchinson, who were alarmed by what was happening and by the President’s reaction to the attack on the Capitol. His testimony from that day inside the White House has been vividly told, but so far we have few visuals.
Holder gained access to the Trumps through Jason Greenblatt, a former White House adviser on Israel who also has executive producer credit. The documentary opens with the warning that Trump & Co. had no editorial control, leading to the question of why they would cooperate. It may be because they thought they could win the election and indeed the project focuses on the Trump dynasty and the extent to which offspring were enlisted to extend the brand.
We get a glimpse of the Trump kids’ personal stories of growing up with their famously pompous dad. Ivanka Trump says he wasn’t a conventional dad but “none of us ever questioned…we were his top priorities.” In a focus on his very public divorce from Ivana Trump, Trump says it “may be true” that he wasn’t the world’s greatest husband. A startling revelation: their father actually tried downhill skiing.
His daughter also tells Holder that she spoke to her father the morning after he announced he had Covid, and “I heard it in his voice… I knew straight away that he was not well.” This contradicted the initial line issued by the White House, which said he suffered only mild symptoms.
The whole Trump family angle, however, couldn’t be the only theme of Unprecedented, given the attack on the Capitol, Trump’s second impeachment, and the possibility that he could face criminal charges.
Trump’s interview with Holder in December 2020, when, after losing dozens of election lawsuits in court, he told her, “You always need a judge with guts, and so far we have not found this judge. He says the Supreme Court did not have the “courage” to set aside the election result and that Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “is like a hard rock”.
Ironically, the most gripping footage isn’t of the Trumps, but of the attack on the Capitol itself, including a moment when its cinematographer was punched. We see Trump’s rally at the Ellipse, the seething anger of his supporters, and finally the footage of the crowd bursting through the windows and beating up a police officer. It is yet another link between Trump’s rhetoric and violence that is at the center of the current January 6 Committee hearings.
As for Trump’s family, Unprecedented gives the idea that they will continue his father’s policies, with doubts that he will let them steal much of the show. There’s also a brief mention of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis implementing Trump-style voting restrictions in his state, a nod to his emergence as a rising alternative to the former president.
The docuseries arrives amid a flood of Trump books, each with its own set of revelations, and there are more documentaries to come about January 6 and its ringleaders. There are certainly some fascinating moments, but this is more of a historical account of what happened, often through the eyes of Trump’s children, than some kind of Truth cinema access to private conversations in the Oval Office or the Field War Room. Given everything at stake these days, this kind of access could be a thing of the past – not only unprecedented, but unlikely.