Fog of War, The

Director: Errol Morris

U.S.A.| 2003. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 105 mins.

Ace documentarist Errol Morris has recently been experimenting with what he calls his ‘Interrotron’, a device enabling his interview subjects to maintain direct eye contact with him as they look into the camera. Still, even he must have been delighted with the degree of insight and revelation elicited from Robert McNamara, the former president of the Ford Motor Company, Secretary of Defence during the Vietnam War, and subsequent head of the World Bank. A sharp-witted 85 at the time of filming, McNamara has had plenty of time to reflect on his actions, but instead of falling back on stubborn self-justification, delivers an absolutely fascinating account of the limits of knowledge amid the pressures of international power politics.
Subtitled ’11 Lessons from the Life of Robert McNamara’, Morris’s film (winner of this year’s Oscar for ‘Best Documentary Feature’) is somehow timely (number 6 is ‘Get the data’, 7 is ‘Belief and seeing are both often wrong’) while offering an unprecedented insider’s view of key moments in U.S. foreign policy. McNamara admits to disproportionate use of force in the fire-bombing raids on Japan during WWII, outlines just how close the world came to conflict during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and reveals his private assessment that the Vietnam War was unwinnable even as he ordered more American troops in. He’s obviously not a man for facile apologies, but his words are clearly considered, put into telling context by Morris’s use of archive footage, clever graphics and authentic taped telephone records. An absolute must for any student of history, or indeed human nature.

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