Film: The Fog of War

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Film:

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara

Director: Errol Morris
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Distributor: Sony Pictures

The Fog of War, the movie that finally won Errol Morris the best documentary Oscar, is a spellbinder. Morris interviews Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and finds a uniquely unsettling viewpoint on much of 20th-century American history. Employing a ton of archival material, including LBJ’s fascinating taped conversations from the Oval Office, Morris probes the reasons behind the U.S. commitment to the Vietnam War—and finds a depressingly inconsistent policy. McNamara himself emerges as—well, not exactly…

Reviews

Amazon.com

The Fog of War, the movie that finally won Errol Morris the best documentary Oscar, is a spellbinder. Morris interviews Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and finds a uniquely unsettling viewpoint on much of 20th-century American history. Employing a ton of archival material, including LBJ’s fascinating taped conversations from the Oval Office, Morris probes the reasons behind the U.S. commitment to the Vietnam War—and finds a depressingly inconsistent policy. McNamara himself emerges as—well, not exactly apologetic, but clearly haunted by the what-ifs of Vietnam. He also mulls the bombing of Japan in World War II and the Cuban Missile Crisis, raising more questions than he answers. The Fog of War has the usual inexorable Morris momentum, aided by an uneasy Philip Glass score. This movie provides a glimpse inside government. It also encourages skepticism about same. —Robert Horton

Barnes and Noble

In this grimly compelling film, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris tackles one of his most perplexing and ambiguous subjects: former defense secretary Robert McNamara, widely identified (and in many quarters reviled) as the architect of the Vietnam War. The octogenarian McNamara, a former head of Ford Motor Co. whose government service began during World War II, is filmed via Morris’s invention, the “Interrotron,” a device that allows interviewer and subject to look into each other’s eyes while also staring directly into the camera lens. This enables the subject to maintain eye contact with the audience, and given the frequently disturbing nature of McNamara’s revelations, it makes for quite an eerie viewing experience. He discusses at length the Allied campaign against Japan in WWII, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the costly, protracted conflict in Vietnam. From his musings Morris extrapolates 11 “lessons,” which are presented one at a time to impose film structure. McNamara initially comes across as completely candid and forthright, yet some of his assertions don’t stand up under scrutiny, and he refuses to apologize for his role in the Vietnam War—even though Morris rather pointedly encourages him to do so. Nonetheless, there is a great deal of truth and wisdom in the old bureaucrat’s remarks, and Morris draws an impressive picture of this fascinating, if flawed, character. Stock footage, photos, and charts supplement McNamara’s reminiscences, and their interpolation makes this Fog a lot clearer than it might have been had the filmmaker relied solely on the “talking head” approach. The 2004 Academy Award winner for Best Documentary Feature, The Fog of War is clearly a movie for its moment, even if it reflects upon past events. Ed Hulse

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