Untold: Malice at the Palace: Does the documentary do the story justice?

Untold: Malice at the Palace - Credit: Netflix
Untold: Malice at the Palace - Credit: Netflix /

The first entry in the five-part Untold series, Untold: Malice at the Palace, has arrived on Netflix. The sports docuseries will offer viewers a new perspective on five stories that they may have thought they already knew. By starting with the infamous NBA brawl that took place in Auburn Hills, Michigan in 2004, the series ensured they would grab viewers’ attention right away.

Untold: The Malice at the Palace features interviews from the players involved, some of the fans involved, and even the police who were there that night. Together with archival footage and various angles of the events of the brawl, the documentary seeks to tell a story that is larger than that night. In many ways, fans never got to know the full story once news headlines took over the narrative and the players’ reputations never truly recovered.

Director Floyd Russ, of the award-winning Netflix documentary short Zion, is at the helm and his storytelling skills were on full display in Untold: Malice at the Palace. The documentary sets the tone with a montage of some of the best moments in the episode before going back to introduce the players.

Starting with Jermaine O’Neal, the documentary does the extra legwork of making sure that the viewer understands who each player was and what position they were in leading up to that day. You get to know Jermaine O’Neal from high school, to Portland, to landing in Indiana and finding himself as a player. You get to know Reggie Miller, embracing a youth movement in pursuit of an elusive championship ring. You also get to know Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson, the two most maligned publicly when it comes to the brawl.

Untold: Malice at the Palace more than delivers with great storytelling

The documentary does deliver, and there are a few reasons why. First, it spends an adequate amount of time setting the stage. From explaining how each player got to the team, to explaining what had happened between Detroit and Indiana the prior year in the playoffs.

The episode also explains that the fans were already rowdy prior to the game. Several season ticket holders were going to have their tickets revoked for their conduct before a single cup was thrown. It’s this added context that paints a new picture of why things played out the way they did.

The series also does a great job of helping viewers understand Ron Artest (now known as Metta World Peace). He gets to talk about his anxiety and depression, and the series takes us into the footage from the time that shows how his mental health struggles affected him in the weeks leading up to that night. The episode also shows how the aftermath affected him and his teammates.

Speaking of which, the most emotional part of the series had to be Reggie Miller talking about how excited he was about that season and how he felt like it was their year. Only to decide after the brawl derailed their season that he was going to retire. When they showed his retirement ceremony, with Reggie getting emotional retelling it, I couldn’t help but feel his pain.

Finally, I mentioned earlier that the story wasn’t just told from the players’ perspective but from some of the key fans’ perspectives as well, and neither of the two most memorable leaves a great impression.

The fan that approached Ron Artest on the court and was later punched by Jermaine O’Neal was shown to be a problematic fan who later tried to play up his injuries. The fan who threw the cup (the real one, not the guy who Ron attacked) made me wish he had been punched in the face.

The episode does the work of showing the humanity of the players involved and reminds us of the lengths the media went to in their efforts to paint them as spoiled “thugs.” In today’s media climate, you have to wonder if the reaction would have been so aggressive towards them, particularly with the language used to describe them.

If you’ve read my reviews in the past you know I don’t like to give spoilers, and I have done that here as well. This was a very well done documentary and I only wish it could have been longer. The episode seems to end abruptly, but by starting the Untold series with Malice at the Palace, I do believe Netflix is going to be successful in getting people to tune in. The second episode, Untold: Deal with the Devil, will be releasing next week on Aug 17.

What do you think of Untold: Malice at the Palace? Will you be watching the rest of the series?

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