Saturday, July 26, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—The Unknown Known (2014) ***½

PG-13, 103 min.
Director/Writer: Errol Morris
Featuring: Donald Rumsfeld
Voice: Errol Morris

In his first feature, “Gates of Heaven”, documentarian Errol Morris interviews an old woman who just lets loose on his camera with a five minute monologue that goes from one end of the spectrum to the other in a way that sees her contradicting her own point by the time she reaches the end. “The Unknown Known” is a feature-length version of that same monologue, this time with former two-time U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as the interviewee.

The film follows the same model as Morris’s feature-length interview of another former Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNamara, in his Oscar-winning “The Fog of War”.  Now, McNamara doesn’t come out of that documentary smelling only of roses, but he does exude confidence and a sure sense of himself and his actions as a civil servant of this country. Here, Rumsfeld comes across as more of a shyster who is unaware that being a shyster isn’t necessarily acting in the best interest of the American people. I think he truly believes that the two go hand in hand, but does he understand that one purpose of this documentary is to try and determine if that is true?

The publicity posters for this movie show a picture of Rumsfeld wearing what can best be described as a shit-eating grin with the words “Why is this man smiling?” above it. If anything, Morris proves here that Rumsfeld doesn’t know the answer to that question any more than we do. He ends the interview with the question “Why are you doing this (interview)?” Rumsfeld’s answer, “I don’t know.” Does he at least know that this response summarizes every fear held by everybody who questioned the actions of the Bush administration? I doubt it.

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