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The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)

  Directed by: Errol Morris
Starring: Robert McNamara
Links: The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara on the IMDb, Official site, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD
Genre: Documentary

This movie gets: 8.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003) is also mentioned in pearly's review of Blind Spot - Hitler's Secretary (2002).

"Example 15 of why docos are doing so well at the moment" - a review by pearly

You can say what you like about Robert McNamara. But the thing is, you're the one saying it, not Errol Morris. Because that, my friends, is what makes Morris such an amazing documentary film-maker. He doesn't give his opinions. He is, in this way, totally different to the latest crop of documentarians (Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, for example), those whose hands are so heavily placed onto the end result of their films that it's impossible to separate the two.

Morris, on the other hand, is always in the background. His skill is finding unique subject matter, and gleaning the information from them without putting across his opinion, either directly or indirectly. The documentary is 100% about the subject, not about him. Morris is clearly a keen observer, and his years of experience shine through in his films.

In this particular one, Morris interviews former USA Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. McNamara held this position for 7 years, and in his time, saw the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but more importantly, was responsible for key decision making during the Vietnam war and the Cuban Missile Crisis. And in Fog of War, Morris gets McNamara to talk openly about this time.

The film is loosely structured around a set of lessons; eleven things which McNamara believes it's important to take away from his time as the Secretary of Defense, such as "empathise with your enemy". These lessons, it is revealed on the DVD extras, are not his own, they are merely used by him as a basis for the interview, but regardless, McNamara is very candid in his speaking, and this makes for compelling viewing. McNamara comes across as a very well versed, intelligent, and, in some ways, humble man. He is open about the mistakes that he made during this time, and, as the extended title of the film suggests, one of the film's aims is to teach others about what he has learnt during his time.

When taken in isolation, McNamara's charm and assurance of himself are quite infectious, even as he is admitting that some of the things he did basically amount to war crimes. Everything that he says rings true because McNamara has, at some point, believed that the course of action he took was the right one. Perhaps he has since changed his mind, sometimes he says that he has. To get a more complete picture, you'd have to check out a few history books, but this does not take away from the fact that Fog of War is a pretty amazing documentary. Morris has been able to capture such open interview answers, and has filmed it in his unique multi-camera way which adds the extra visual dimension, and exposes McNamara for what he is: an old man. Quite the documentary.

pearly gives this movie 8 out of 10.
Review created on Mon 5 Jul 2004

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Reader comments

  1. My favourite quote from this movie was "We lucked out, we came THIS close to a nuclear war."

    That is especially true due to the fact that a lot of people operating the missle silos had "000000" as the missle code as it was too much trouble for them to use the actual codes.

    A comment from nofreelist's own timchuma on Thu 28 Jul 2005 16:48 #

  2. I am a San Franisico person and would love to speak with you , my son will go into the same life that you went into , and you know everthing. I have put everthing , in his life, he like you comes from the worken class . I am a roofer and not able to tell him anything anymore, but you can, please if you see this, write me . He will go all the way , like you. Thank you Gilbert M. Whalen

    A comment from Gilbert M . Whalen on Fri 24 Feb 2006 16:51 #

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