A review of “The Fog of War” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images

Run Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes

 

 

          Documentarian Errol Morris knows how to sniff out a juicy controversy, a talent abundantly evident in the edifying and abrasive The Fog of War.  

Morris’ fascination with conflicted characters (think Mr. Death, Fast, Cheap & Out of Control) is the ideal blank canvas on which to paint a treacherous expose of former United States Secretary of Defense (and Vietnam scapegoat) Robert S. McNamara.

          Arrogant dictator or sagacious veteran? Only his highness knows for sure. Through a lengthy series of compelling face-to-face interviews, interspersed with vintage historical footage, McNamara waxes poetic on the dark days of the Cuban Arms Blockade, his brief tenure as CEO of Ford Motor Company, and controversial stints under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. 

Spry and erudite at age 85, the egotistical McNamara appears softened by the selected wisdom of his twilight years, firmly placing the past into fascinating, albeit jaded, perspective. 

          As the go-to-guy for the Vietnam storm, McNamara has a lot to answer for.  Mental breakdowns, conspiracy theories, and clandestine phone conversations between McNamara and heads of state lend Fog a cloak-and-dagger aura, fortified by Philip Glass’ uneasy yet compelling score. 

Refusing to cop to the momentous guilt of hundreds of thousands of deaths, McNamara nimbly sidesteps insinuating allegations, remaining something of an enigma when the lights come up.  This architect of war cum elder statesman directly benefits from Morris’ curiously stylish effort, making for enduringly captivating cinema.