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

Genres - Culture & Society  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Military & War, Politics & Government  |   Release Date - Dec 19, 2003 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 107 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Perry Seibert

Errol Morris' films stand out because he allows people to explain themselves. Very few figures from the later half of the 20th century would seem to owe the American public more of an explanation than Robert McNamara -- the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. The riveting aspect of The Fog of War is seeing the elderly but mentally sharp McNamara explain his motivations during that remarkable time in history. Covering his entire life, the film starts with McNamara discussing how he invented seat belts. His obsessive attention to detail and organization during this time in his career may remind Morris fans of the scientist in Fast, Cheap & Out of Control. More than any other human subject in Morris' films, McNamara thrives under the unyielding gaze of Morris' camera. His articulate explanations about what transpired in the Kennedy White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis balance political theory with a sense of McNamara's personal understanding of how historic the situation was. These elements make the portions of the film about Vietnam all the more chilling. McNamara never acknowledges that he abandoned the lessons he claimed to have learned earlier in his career, but he is so engaging and confident that Morris himself becomes flustered. Morris' voice gets higher and higher with indignation as he grows more exasperated in his interrogation, but McNamara is unflappable. Although he might lose a bit of control in his voice, Morris is always cool and calculated in his filmmaking. The historical images interact with the new material he shot for the film in such a way that he is able to poetically underscore the humor, the horror, and the gravity of the topics being discussed. The Fog of War is that rare combination of great history, great filmmaking, and great biography.