Having previously made the brilliant Fog of War about Robert McNamara, American Defense Secretary during the Vietnam war, Errol Morris turned to another high profile controversial figure from the US, Donald Rumsfeld.
This time Morris doesn't quite achieve the same heights as he did in Fog of War. That earlier film made you feel he got under the skin of his subject and offered insight about who he really was. This time, it feels more like shadow boxing all the way through without Rumsfeld ever taken beyond the answers he was happy to give.
In that respect, it is rather like the earlier interviews David Frost did with Richard Nixon, but without the dramatic moments when, finally after repeated trying, Frost got Nixon to reveal more than he wished.
That said, the Front/Nixon and Fog of War yardsticks are very high ones to judge The Unknown Known by and there is plenty to enjoy in the shadow boxing, especially for the classic Morris style of interweaving images of his character at work in the past with his interview footage.
Plus for people who only know the 21st century version of Donald Rumsfeld, there is much of interest from his earlier career, including how he could have ended up as President of the USA.
I bought this as a consequence of being so impressed by "The fog of War" video. I was not disappointed. This has to be a five star as few documentaries give a real insight into how those at the top think. For those who are interested in how the worlds leaders make decisions first hand, rather than through the tittle-tattle of the media, this is essential viewing.
"The Unknown Known" (2013 release; 103 min.) is the latest documentary from Errol "The Fog of War" Morris, this time interviewing former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The title of the documentary reflects on one of the thousands of memos (so-called "snowflakes") that Rumsfeld issued during his tenure: "What You Know", the "unkown known" being "things you think you know but it turns out you didn't know". Translated: the epic failure of Iraq post-invasion, when it became clear that the Pentagon didn't have a game plan on how to deal with things after Sadam Hussein was overthrown. The documentary goes back or Rumsfeld's early days, back to the 60s when he was elected to Congress before taking various administration positions with Presidents Ford and Reagan, thankfully including some great archive shots and photos. But the focus of this documentary is clearly the 2003-2004 era of the Iraq invasion.
Couple of comments: Rumsfeld always has been someone who loves the camera and the spotlight, and easily providing memorable quotes or answers, and this documentary is more proof of that. Morris: "How did you propose to your wife?" Rumsfeld: "Imperfectly", ha! Morris: "Isn't it amazing how they were able to pull off 9-11?" Rumsfeld: "Everything seems amazing in retrospect". When the photo scandal in the Abu Dabi prison broke, Rumsfeld offered to resign, but President Bush refused, to Rumsfeld's regret. Yet despite all that, when you see him contradicting himself about whether or not Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, you just shake your head in disgust. The documentary ends with Morris asking Rumsfeld: "Why are you talking to me?". What does Rumsfeld respond? Just watch! As an aside, veteran film composer Danny Elfman provides a subtle but very nice soundtrack to the film.
This movie opened at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati this past weekend. I went to see it right away, and the late matinee screening was reasonably well attended. Truth be told, I enjoyed the documentary more than I expected. If you want some insights on the war in Iraq and all the misery that brought along with it, "The Unknown Known: is definitely worth checking out, be it in the theater or on DVD
Fascinating insight into his mind but left me wondering how he was able to justify his role in government so glibly. Worth watching to gain some enlightenment on the situation we now find ourselves in.
A MUST see ! It subtly exposes this vain, ruthless, dishonest man who for many years headed up the USA's war machine. One cannot help but come to the conclusion that there are many more with the same dangerous characteristics in every USA Administration.