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The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)

PG-13  |   |  Documentary, History, War  |  5 March 2004 (USA)
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Ratings: 8.2/10 from 18,426 users   Metascore: 87/100
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A film about the former US Secretary of Defense and the various difficult lessons he learned about the nature and conduct of modern war.


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Title: The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003)

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003) on IMDb 8.2/10

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Cast overview:


Documentary about Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, who subsequently became president of the World Bank. The documentary combines an interview with Mr. McNamara discussing some of the tragedies and glories of the 20th Century, archival footage, documents, and an original score by Philip Glass. Written by Richard Latham

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for images and thematic issues of war and destruction | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

5 March 2004 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Fog of War  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$41,449 (USA) (19 December 2003)


$4,193,943 (USA) (14 May 2004)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (theatrical)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


McNamara originally agreed to an hour-long interview for the Errol Morris PBS series, First Person (2000). The interview lasted eight hours and McNamara stayed for a second day of interviewing. He also returned months later, for two more days of interviews. Morris found himself with more than enough material for a feature-length documentary. See more »


[first lines]
[Per contact at the Errol Morris Foundation, the date is 8/5/1964, and the clip is from Press Conference on The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, National Archives #111-LC-48220]
Robert McNamara: [archival footage from the press conference on the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, 5 August 1964] Is this chart at a reasonable height for you? Or do you want it lowered? All right. Earlier tonight - first let me ask the TV, are you ready? All set?
See more »

Crazy Credits

Director of Officeland Security: Jackpot Junior See more »


Referenced in The 50 Greatest Documentaries (2005) See more »


Statistical Control
by Philip Glass
Ocean Mountain Music
See more »

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User Reviews

Grappling with a Difficult Film
7 November 2004 | by (Middletown, CT) – See all my reviews

If you possess an especially smug view of history's finality, this film may not do a great deal to impress you. For the rest of us, however, Errol Morris presents a truly complex picture of a clearly complex man.

Many of the reviews I read of the film complain that there doesn't seem to be a main point that emerges from the film or its eleven "lessons," which are admittedly too cute by half in many cases. The point, though, is the complexity itself. The point is that history is bigger than its main players, and inscrutably difficult to judge in a definitive moral sense. I don't think I will ever forget McNamara's probing, clearly emotional questioning of the rules of war or the lack thereof, when he discusses how one evening he and general Curtis LeMay decided to burn to death 100,000 people in the Tokyo firebombing. The portrait of McNamara, as well as the two presidents he served, is one of human beings through and through, with all the fallibility and conflictedness that entails. The central quandary of war emerges for the viewer to see: it is the business of killing people, and that means that mistakes cause people to die needlessly.

As I said, this film, taken in the right spirit, is deeply challenging. I would recommend it to anyone who has grappled with the enormity and awfulness of the history of the twentieth century.

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