188. The Most Dangerous Man in America [B+]
189. The Trials of Henry Kissinger [B-]
190. Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in our Times [D+]
The Most Dangerous Man in America: This is a film about Daniel Ellsberg, the man who leaked the so-called Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971 and quickly made himself public enemy number one of the Nixon administration. It's a terrific subject that has sadly been forgotten by many people, and it is re-told with creative economy and technical polish here. I'm reminded of two other documentaries I've seen this year, The Fog of War
and You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train
, and this film falls somewhere in between the two (and features the subjects of both films: Howard Zinn, in interview footage, and Robert S. McNamara, in archive footage). The interviews convey the correct urgency, as does the music and editing, but the reenactments and archive footage are never as poetic or unexpected as anything Errol Morris pulls off in The Fog of War
. On the other hand, the filmmakers here are smart enough to let Ellsberg read his own narration, avoiding yet another gratuitous celebrity voice over. If you don't know anything about the Pentagon Papers and their revelation to the public, I won't explain much here. Go see this documentary. You won't be disappointed.
The Trials of Henry Kissinger: An interesting, if one-sided documentary, it's professorially made but takes a little too much time in the first forty minutes to state its case. There are far more damning and revelatory events in the second half than in the first, which is bogged down by a few scenes of Christopher Hitchens showboating that go nowhere (he and a crowd intend to confront Kissinger at a speaking event, but they never do). It's good, but it could be better. And it's certainly hard to comprehend Hitchens ended up supporting the Iraq War with a passion in 2003 (and beyond), but he did.
Power and Terror: Noam Chomsky in our Times: I checked with Rotten Tomatoes to see if my memory of critical praise of this documentary wasn't faulty. Alas, it wasn't. Critics seem to be in love with this film, but it seems more likely that they're in love with Chomsky's politics. Chomsky is insightful and intelligent, but he's not a particularly commanding speaker, which doesn't do this dull and lifeless film any favors. Basically, a rather aimless montage of a few speaking dates with interludes from an extended interview with the director, there's not much form here and there's certainly not much professionalism. As we wait for Chomsky to fix the microphone so he can be heard, or we wait for someone in the audience to get the microphone so they can ask a question, or we watch as a boom mic perilously drops into the shot and stays, or we squirm in our seats as the camera awkwardly and with sudden jerks attempts to frame its subject, we're ultimately left with the impression of a film that has all the budget and professionalism of public access. Despite all those faults, Chomsky manages to keep it from falling completely apart, because his depth of knowledge and analysis is so pointed and astute. But if this is the best his work can be translated to the screen, perhaps reading one of his many, many books would be a far better choice.