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"THE FOG OF WAR"
(2003) (Robert McNamara) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Documentary: Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara discusses his views on efficiency, war and his involvement in military matters regarding WWII, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam.
PLOT:
In this documentary by acclaimed filmmaker Errol Morris, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara discusses his personal and professional life as well as his views on efficiency, war and his involvement in military matters regarding WWII, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam.
OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
Take most any hot button issue today and you'll find opposing people and their viewpoints on both sides of the argument. While there are obviously exceptions to the following, it's sad that many of those on one side are so passionate, vehement and/or devoted to their cause and/or way of thinking that they refuse or can't understand or see those on the other.

In today's world, that's certainly the case with the U.S. military action in Iraq. Those who support the cause can't understand those who oppose it, while the latter often refuse even to try to understand those who do.

For all with an opinion on the matter and others who simply enjoy well-made and informational documentaries, I suggest you run out and see "The Fog of War." From acclaimed documentary filmmaker Errol Morris ("Fast, Cheap and Out of Control," "The Thin Blue Line") comes a look at the titular subject as exposed through the examining of controversial figure Robert S. McNamara.

If that name doesn't ring a bell - and it probably won't for many under 40 -- he was the former Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson who was directly involved in military matters concerning the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was also President of Ford Motor Company, the same for the World Bank for thirteen years and was instrumental in the massive firebombing campaign of Japan preceding the dropping of the two atomic bombs.

The man has obviously seen, heard and experienced quite a bit in his lifetime. Through Morris' usual but still innovative Interrotron technique (where the interviewee sees the interviewer's face superimposed over the camera lens and thus appears to be talking directly to the viewer), the filmmaker gets McNamara to open up in surprising ways about those historical events and more.

The fascinating and completely engaging film - with a terrific score by composer Philip Glass - is structured into eleven "lessons" from McNamara's life. In subsequent interviews, he's stated that they're Morris's and not his, but they obviously come from his way of looking at life, humans and warfare. Among them are subjects such as "Rationality will not save us," "There's something beyond self," "Believing and seeing are often both wrong," "In order to do good, you may have to engage the enemy" and "You can't change human nature."

Following title cards that name each lesson, Morris culls interview material and combines it will archival footage to illustrate what McNamara is talking about. The most fascinating moments are actual audio recordings of him interacting with J.F.K. and L.B.J. regarding the missile crisis in Cuba and the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Quite surprisingly, it's McNamara who's heard telling Kennedy that the U.S. should get out of Vietnam, while Johnson later says his predecessor and McNamara were wrong for thinking that.

The most surprising thing - especially for those who've demonized the former Sec. of Defense - is that he comes off as human and even admits that he and others made mistakes and were involved in other actions that were questionable at best.

It's shocking but true to hear about former General Curtis LeMay stating that if WWII had gone the other way, the U.S. would have been convicted of war crimes against the Japanese for the massive firebombing raids. Then there's the part where McNamara discusses learning directly from Fidel Castro that there were 162 nuclear missiles on Cuba aimed at the U.S. during the early '60 crisis.

While you get a sense of some form of agenda at play in the documentary, it's never as blatant or one-sided as is the case with those from fellow filmmaker Michael Moore. Everything feels rather balanced and fair, although various jump cuts in the interviews with McNamara made me wonder what was cut out. Perhaps it was distracting pauses, glitches or the like. Then again, the film could have been edited to get Morris' point across to the viewer rather than that of the former Secretary.

Whatever the case, it doesn't distract from this well-made, fascinating and definitely eye-opening look at the former controversial figure as well as various landmark historical events in which he was both indirectly and directly involved. The title and material within obviously suggest that warfare mentality is often shrouded in fog, but there's nothing hazy about this terrific documentary. We highly recommend "The Fog of War" that rates as an 8 out of 10.




Reviewed December 3, 2003 / Posted December 26, 2003


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