Review: The Fog of War (2003)

I was glad when Errol Morris won an Academy Award for his documentary The Fog of War, until last night when I saw it.

It came as a surprise to be so disappointed by this film.  I wasn’t surprised, however, that this was the film the Academy chose to recognize, rather than the utterly original Fast, Cheap and Out of Control or the provocative The Thin Blue Line.  I came out of Fog a bit in a fog of my own, wondering what point the filmmaker was trying to get across to the audience.

The full title of the film is The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.  For two hours, McNamara speaks about his witness to history: WWII, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and, of course, Vietnam, when he served as Secretary of Defense.  The film is an opportunity for McNamara to give his side of the story.  He does most of the talking, with an occasional question lobbed at him from off camera by the director, interspersed with original and archival footage.  None of the information is very controversial, no shocking secrets are revealed.  Each of the eleven points is enumerated as chapter headings throughout the film, and there was a point where I thought to myself, “Number 7…we’re only on number 7?!?”  The friend I was with had the exact same reaction. Definitely not a good sign.

Stylistically, the film is impressive, using slow motion, editing, layers of images and interestingly composed visuals to effect. But there comes a point where it started to get a bit repetitive—there are only so many times you can watch bombs fall from planes in slow motion.  Philip Glass’ score is good, especially when setting the mood in the beginning.

Fog has an epilogue that served to drive home my feeling of being let down by the film.  The director asks McNamara a few of the tougher questions, concerning guilt and responsibility, all of which McNamara declines to answer.  His responses are tinged in allusion, hinting that a more interesting movie about this subject has yet to be made.

Here’s the Gist:  Although he won the Oscar for this film, I don’t consider it his best.  Hopefully, that’s yet to come. [**1/2 out of 5]

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