The Fog of War:
Eleven Lessons from the Life of
Robert S. McNamara

(Release Date: May 21, 2003 [Cannes Film Festival])
(USA Theatrical Release Date: December 19, 2003)

Five Stars... The Truth HurtsFive Stars... The Truth HurtsFive Stars... The Truth HurtsFive Stars... The Truth HurtsFive Stars... The Truth Hurts

Hindsight reveals wonders!

Not a War Criminal!
J.C. Maçek III
The World's Greatest Critic!
Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had a lot to get off his chest when he went in to be interviewed by PBS' Errol Morris. So much, in fact, that what was intended to be an hour-long interview evolved into a full-length (107 minute) theatrical release. Now, what the director of The Thin Blue Line was shooting for was reportedly an episode of First Person, but, like Lost in La Mancha before it, this project broke its bounds and became a fascinating documentary, that could have even stood to be a little longer. It's called The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.

The Fog of War is a documentary about Robert McNamara, the Defense Secretary under Kennedy and Johnson. This is an interesting account of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Viet Nam, World War II and many other things that have taught him a number of lessons he's ready to share with the public. These are all his opinions about himself and history, so you're not challenged to accept everything on face value, but he does truly examine things in an interesting way.

It's so much more than that, though! McNamara guides Morris through his childhood, early years and adult career with the Ford Motor Company, not as an indugence, but as a background for the man who made the war decisions in the 1960s.

The meat of the piece, naturally, is McNamara in Government, both in decision and in aftermath. This period is told both by McNamara's looking directly into the camera (and frequently shaking his finger at Morris) and with archival footage seamlessly melded together into a whole that is at once compelling, and difficult to endure. It's never once dull, but some of the frank descriptions of the act and aftermath of war are painful to hear about. But not as painful as they appear to be for McNamara to talk about.

Foggy, nelson?!
There's a strange mood and theme to this documentary as well mainly because it's not McNamara talking about his victories, but of his failures. That's what makes this film compelling. McNamara isn't his OWN favorite. In fact he's discussing here in some vivid detail the mistakes he made and he chronicles them well. It's definitely your call as the viewer, but this isn't a piece about McNamara's vanity, but about his frailty.

It's a strange Mea Culpa. It's not as if he comes on and simply says "I was wrong about everything and here I'm setting the record straight!" However... He's not some arrogant SOB who tells everyone how they were wrong and he was right. On the contrary he comes across as a sensitive and regretful old man who has made a lot of mistakes, and is ready now to talk about them.

The film allows McNamara's 11 lessons (take them for what you think they're worth) to guide it through the fascinating story that he tells, and like it or not, these lessons are as relevant today as they were then. It could be argued that in the present there's yet another "Fog of War" going on (see also Fahrenheit 9/11) however, I doubt there will ever be a movie like this again. There will probably never be a Secretary of Defense this willing to be this open, especially this late in life. Let's be honest, can you imagine Madeline Albright or Colin Powell admitting openly that they should be considered "War Criminals"? McNamara does just this and that's only in the first 15 minutes of the film! The word "Wow" came to mind.

For all its accuracy and fascination, there are a few flaws here. There are a few questions offered up by Morris, but primarily, this is more of a lecture than an interview on the part of McNamara. As excellent as that can be, what he doesn't want to talk about doesn't get said. The "Bay of Pigs" incident is mentioned briefly, but is conspicuously absent here, for example. Further, this needs to be seen as a historical opinion piece, not as a History Book. Certainly someone who differs from McNamara or Morris (not the same thing, mind you) might find more fault in the telling of this than the objective viewer. It's an incredible film, no doubt about it, but it also pulls no punches, and sometimes, especially here, it hurts to learn.

Does McNamara come across as a living villain or as a contrite and regretful old man who has learned his lessons? It's open to interpretation, but I'd say it's a lot of both. Because of this, you can make your own opinions as you see fit. I'd like to hear your thoughts when time permits.

Opinions aside, as a Documentary it's an excellent one! Five Stars (out of Five) for The Fog of War. It's fascinating to watch, but it might not be the easiest thing in the world to learn from. Think what you will about Robert Strange McNamara, I'm not even sure he knows what to think of himself, but know that he has an important story to tell. And The Fog of War is an important documentary film because of this.

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The Fog of War (2003) reviewed by J.C. Maçek III who is responsible for the content of this review
but not for the Bay of Pigs! Not for the Bay of Pigs!
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Who else could they have gotten to play Robert McNamara?

I’ll see the film and then react for you. I sort of picture this as you walking up, straightening the tie, brushing off the shirt and Bowing... Then taking out a Harmonica and playing a note to Harmonize to, then embarking on a well-rehearsed reaction. I know... I'm odd... These are the things I picture! I think that's the only reason I still have readers. Maybe I can make a film with Debra Winger and Shirley McLain called "Oddities of Endearment"
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