A documentary that begs the question: Do we really want to know anything about Donald Rumsfeld? I mean, sure the former U.S. Secretary of Defense did have his fifteen minutes in the sun but is he enough of an interesting figure in American history or politics to warrant an entire film dedicated to him? Important questions and they are all answered in writer/director Errol Morris’s (The Fog of War, Standard Operating Procedure) in-depth look at the man behind the public figure.
Errol Morris, the man who almost singlehandedly brought back moviegoers’ attention to documentary films in the 80s, is the perfect man to bring to light this story. The story of Donal Rumsfeld from his time as a congressman in the early 60s until he was Secretary of Defense for George W. Bush and planning the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The way he gets behind the curtains of who the man really is and what made him tick politically is through talking…and talking…and even more talking. If you are not into dialogue heavy films then don’t touch this one with a ten foot pole because that is its lifeblood.
In regards to my question about whether a documentary about Rumsfeld is warranted is a valid one because even the man himself poses it. Rumsfeld admits that he was hesitant to participate in the film and is not even really sure why he agreed. That being said there he is talking about almost his entire political career. What Morris does well as a director and an interviewer is to disappear. Very rarely do you hear his voice asking Rumsfeld a question. It seems like he allowed the man to tell his story without much outside interference. In other words, you get it as Rumsfeld would want you to. Like the man or not, agree with his politics or not, you have to admit that he is a good speaker and that his career was an interesting one. Rumsfeld is easy to listen to as he is engaged in the process, well-spoken, sure, has a good memory, and gosh-darn it, almost likeable.
Interspersed between the long one on one interview with Rumsfeld is some archival footage and some dramatic recreations of events. Rumsfeld talks about several events that have really marked recent U.S. history. He speaks of 9/11, the Iraqi invasion, the end of Vietnam, the U.S. – Russian relationship, and his dealings with the administrations of several presidents (Bush, Reagan, Nixon).
The neat thing about modern history is that you can usually get the participants in whatever event you want to investigate to talk about it because they are still around to do so. It gives the viewer a unique opportunity and an advantage. Political junkies will eat this up with a spoon because having the man who was pretty much pulling the strings on the U.S. invasion of Iraq tell about it from his perspective is pretty darn cool.
-A Conversation With Errol Morris
-Third Annual Report of the Secretaries of Defense (1989)
-Four-Part Op-Ed “The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld” by Errol Morris