Having absolutely no clue who Robert McNamara was or what he was instrumental in doing over the course of his career makes me without question the best person to review the documentary that looks to detail exactly what he did. As far as I can tell from Errol Morris’ 2003 documentation on McNamara, he was instrumental in some rather controversial moments throughout the latter stages of World War 2, America’s war with Cuba and the Vietnam war also. In a one-on-one style of interviewing, McNamara narrates us through his career, with Morris interjecting the occasional prompt from time to time.
To see someone so proud of his accomplishments, however horrific they may be, is rather unsettling. The Fog of War never quite shies away from these moments, but never does anything all that interesting with the either. We’re left to reflect on these actions, and by the looks of it, there’s no spin coming from either end of the conversation. What reason does McNamara really have to spin a web of lies at this point? People have judged him, and continue to do so, regardless of whether or not they’ve heard his side of the story. What strikes me as rather impressive though is that he’s willing to stick by his controversial decisions, to say the least. McNamara never wavers from his side of the story, years of practising the same lines over and over, or just a genuine belief that what he did at the time, in the spur of the moment, was the right thing to do. The narrative draws from this frequently, and it’s nice to see that such a simple few moments can create such discourse.
With some genuine interest buried within the core of the film, it’s a shame that the fundamentals of documentary making are cast aside with little care. Sudden cuts and jumps, tilted angles and extreme close-ups make McNamara look like an elderly YouTube vlogger talking about the impact of Agent Orange, rather than a politician and public figure tasked with explaining the reasoning behind his actions. Morris’ direction needs to be toned down extensively, but there’s no sign of any self-restraint coming from the documentary maker, a real shame since it would’ve helped proceedings tenfold.
The conviction in which McNamara makes his arguments is engaging and interesting, a fine line is drawn between controversy and praise, the balance met rather well throughout. What detracts from these moments so often though is Morris’ lacklustre efforts to pump excitement into places it simply shouldn’t be. Well worth watching for those that have any sort of interest in American politics, particularly the 60s and 70s, but brace yourself for some rather inconsistent direction on the whole. Shamefully messy when it was a simple, straightforward job.