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Untold: Malice at the Palace 2021 Movie Review Poster Trailer Online
Director: Floyd Russ
Stars: Jermaine O’Neal, Stephen Jackson, Metta World Peace
When you begin a documentary program stating that footage of a past event wasn’t made public back then and follow that up with interviewees suggesting we don’t know the entire story, one expects the documentary to be informative–provide new footage and perspectives, tell the untold. So, it’s egregious when this hour-and-some-change “Untold: Malice at the Palace” doesn’t do that. There’s hardly anything here that hadn’t played live on television and repeatedly on ESPN and the rest of the news TV channels thereafter. Instead, we get a piece of sports nostalgia to demonstrate how lousy analog TV footage looks beside digitized interviews performed nearly 17 years later, as the same old story is repeated once again and none too insightfully or thoroughly.
I should’ve known something was amiss right off the bat, to use another sport’s cliché, when Ron Artest, a.k.a. Metta World Peace, claims the NBA game brawl is “hard to explain to people from Suburban America,” as the camera reveals him sitting in a room of a home that looks better than some cookie-cutter suburban digs. Unlike some of the clips here from TV personalities, I’m not suggesting such professional athletes don’t deserve millions of dollars–this is capitalism, after all, not some NCAA racket–nor that anyone should have beer, chairs and fists thrown at them. But, I do have a low tolerance for pissing and moaning about millionaires not getting some fancy ring for winning a basketball tournament. Reggie Miller is going to be fine. And, if the so-called “Malice at the Palace” is, indeed, hard to explain to suburbanites, this laughably titled “Untold” documentary sure does a poor job demonstrating that. Heck, aren’t plenty of those fans from the suburbs–wasn’t the Auburn Hills stadium. Indeed, we see a bit of the beer-thrower’s home, lawn included.
Moreover, the doc focuses on the effects of alcohol on the fans more than any racial dynamics, which is what one might guess Artest was getting at. It was only this past NBA season that I ever recall the media examining incidents of bad behavior from fans towards players in that light–and, then, only after players pointed it out. “Untold” doesn’t tell about that, either. It does cover the racially-charged nature of the use of the word “thug,” especially as only applied to the mostly-black players and not the mostly-white fans, in an obvious way and without a hint of irony that the best argument of that probably isn’t people acting criminally violent, which is its dictionary definition.
Never mind wider social issues, though, for this doc doesn’t even do very well to examine the game. The interviews are generally bland. The most interesting thing might be the animosity between the former Indiana Pacers players, Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson with Artest, all of whom also happened to be among the most involved and harshly punished for the riot. Artest obviously had emotional problems, though, and that’s once again covered here, so that’s not much news, either, that his actions would annoy others. From the Detroit Pistons, only Ben Wallace is interviewed and not for long. Otherwise, interviews include an obnoxious fan who was also subsequently charged and even-more-so refuses accountability and, of all people, disgraced-referee Tim Donaghy. Sure, he refereed that game, and he was also later sentenced to prison for betting on the games he oversaw. Hard to take this program as credible when it glosses over something so blatant.
It says the riot changed the league, but how? A more encompassing look at how this brawl fit into others throughout the rest of the league’s history (e.g. Rudy Tomjanovich nearly dying from a punch during a 1977 game) might’ve been good–along with an examination of how such cumulatively contributed to rule changes that created a less-physical, more up-tempo, guard-friendly game than the ones from 2004 covered here, where the Pistons could close out the Conference Finals against rival Pacers with a score of 69-65. This last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the winning team scored at least 110 points every game. Of course, alterations in assessing fouls and such are only part of it–there’s also “Moneyball” analytics valuing 3-pointers, relaxed enforcement of traveling, and such. I know the documentary is only a little over an hour in length, but if you have time to waste on covering O’Neal being drafted out of high school, let alone replaying interview and TV clips over and over again, you have time to discuss something of actual interest.