Posted by Aaron West, 3/8/04
The Fog of War (2003)
Directed by Errol Morris
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Who better to explain, reflect and philosophize on war
than one of America's most notorious "warmongers", former
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara? After all, not only
has he been part of the most significant American conflicts,
he's the guy that ultimately gave the orders, for better
or for worse. McNamara, now 83, has dedicated most of his
life to researching, understanding, and propagating various
forms of war. He also happens to be a man of keen intellect,
with strong convictions, and a captivating personality.
He is the perfect subject for Errol Morris' new documentary,
The Fog of War.
The Fog of War centers its message on "11 lessons", according
to McNamara, learned from a life at war. These are not snippets
of self-help wisdom, as the wording may appear to mean,
but instead are lessons that nations and leaders should
live by. They all derive from McNamara's personal experience.
They range from the pragmatic "empathize with your enemy"
to the philosophical "don't trust what you believe and see".
These eleven lessons are arranged so that they (more or
less) chronologically follow the events of McNamara's career;
thereby this film also serves as a thorough documentary
on McNamara's life.
McNamara gave twenty hours worth of interviews for the
film, so the voice of the film is essentially his, but don't
expect a Barbara Walters special. Errol Morris intersperses
a great deal of stock footage, including some humorous bits
of McNamara himself, but also some devastating war footage.
He also utilizes stock audio conversations between McNamara
and the two presidents he served under, Kennedy and Johnson.
This allows the audience to superficially experience the
heavy burden these decisions presented to the leaders.
The Fog of War succeeds because of both of these sharp
men, McNamara and Morris. McNamara's knowledge, his calculated
word choice, and even his sense of humor give this film
a distinct voice. Morris proves himself (again) to be an
expert documentarian, who creates images that correspond
with the former Secretary's points, but he also is able
to provoke an emotional reaction from the audience. This
makes these lessons more compelling and meaningful.
There is one more man who contributed to this film's greatness.
Phillip Glass creates a fantastic score. The score is most
noticeable when it is absent, which is a sign of a great
score. It blends in with McNamara's voice and Morris' imagery
perfectly. It isn't overdone and doesn't draw attention
to itself unnecessarily. It is simply a complement to all
the other elements of an already brilliant film.
The Fog of War is a phenomenal piece of cinema. It is the
type of film, much like some of Morris' prior work (The
Thin Blue Line) that inspires others to reach the same level
of documentary filmmaking. More importantly, it inspires
discussion and thought on subject matter that affects us
all. Who could ask for more than that?