The Fog of War

on December 19, 2003 by Mary Colbert
Renowned author and documentarian Errol Morris this time takes as his focus Robert McNamara, U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1961-68, who presided over defining moments in American history such as the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. The end result is a very compelling mosaic.

Morris incisively deals with a subject who is surprising in his candor as the octogenarian not only confronts his own political career but also casts warnings about the repercussions of decisions and policies.

A plethora of material (at least three biographies) exists on McNamara but Morris, in his seventh documentary, peels layers and introduces new perspectives including new material of recently released White House conversations taped between McNamara and President Johnson that reveal a much more complex story about the man alleged to be one of the engineers of the Vietnam war.

Morris exposes a 20th-century American fable of a dreamer who rose from humble origins to the heights of political power--an idealist whose values were rooted in World War II attitudes and who raises moral questions about his own legacy.

Fusing ideas and styles, Morris presents a richly layered essay about the man who served both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson during a defining era of American politics.

The filmmaker of such acclaimed works as "The Thin Blue Line" and "A Brief History of Time" blends standard documentary tools such as archival footage, TV excerpts and reconstructions with potent new interview material culled from 20 hours of taped candid conversations with his subject. What makes much of this material particularly potent is its use of a customized "interrotron," a device that allows the subject to look directly at the audience and simultaneously see an image of Morris.

Mc Namara's frankness allegedly took even Morris by surprise--particularly his admissions of his involvement in key conflicts such as the fire-bombing of 67 Japanese cities during World War II before the atomic bombs were dropped--which are intercut with moving footage of the devastation.

In an explosive revelation, McNamara claims that, had the allies not won the war, he and General Curtis Le May might have been tried as war criminals.

Another fragile period under examination is the Cuban Missile Crisis when, according to McNamara, pressure by both sides to use nuclear weapons could have produced dire outcomes.

Evidently mellowed by time and experience, McNamara is a man whose revelations and life make compelling viewing. Directed by Errol Morris. Produced by Errol Morris, Michael Williams and Julie Ahlberg. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Documentary. Rated PG-13 for images and thematic issues of war and destruction. Running time : 95 min

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