The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara
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2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

A film with a face made for radio

6/10
Author: Peter (fineanimal) from San Diego, California
29 September 2004

From reading other viewer's comments here it appears that the answer to the question, "Robert McNamara: Good or Evil?" lies entirely in the mind of the beholder, and very few minds appear capable (or willing) to think outside one of those two extremes. Hopefully that is just a sign of our times, and one day it will end so that people can appreciate this film for what it is: McNamara's "memoirs" edited by another person. It's not necessarily the truth, but not necessarily a revisionist version of history either. It's just McNamara talking about his life experiences in his own way, for his own reasons. And it's fascinating.

This film is important in the sense that it records a unique perspective of 20th century history for subsequent generations that cannot comprehend the turmoil of the Cold War era from their own experience. It accomplishes this simply because McNamara was there, and was a major player in those events. We have plenty of liars in high places today who are regarded as honest, respectable leaders. We also have plenty of honest, respectable leaders who are constantly accused of being liars. Should we deny them all any opportunity to speak of their experience simply because someone, somewhere doesn't like them? McNamara was there, and for that reason alone anyone who complains about his "performance" here should just shut the hell up and let McNamara speak (unless of course these individuals also helped determine the course of world world events through the 20th century rather than sitting around drinking beer and watching NFL reruns on DVD).

If you lived through the Cold War, and particularly the Vietnam era, you owe it to yourself to watch this film to help place those tumultuous times into perspective. If you reached the age of consciousness after these events, you owe it to yourself to watch this film because the man was there, and he is telling you about it. This is not some arrogant academic interpreting or criticizing the very real and difficult work that was done by others decades earlier. This is not a psychopathic talk show host threatening to turn off McNamara's microphone because he doesn't like what the man has to say. Don't read so much into it, it's just McNamara explaining things from his unique point of view, and you can learn a lot by just listening, without trying to believe him or disbelieve him.

Despite this recommendation, I give the film a rating of 6/10 because the editing is simply atrocious. Yes, the editing won awards. Yes, some reviewers here have commented on how wonderful the editing is. Like McNamara himself, people will always disagree no matter the subject.

But the fact remains that throughout the entire film the editor performed jump cuts in the middle of McNamara's sentences for no apparent reason at all, except to appear stylish. The result was so distracting that I found myself rewinding almost everything McNamara said so I could look away from the screen and actually listen to what he said without the visual discontinuity. Then I'd watch the excellent stock footage of World War II, JFK, LBJ, Vietnam, etc. until the next time McNamara spoke, when I had to begin rewinding all over again. This is one of the most frustrating interviews I've ever watched.

This lousy editing created a work that is fascinating to listen to, but almost impossible to watch. Perfect for radio, or for a compact disk at half the price. But as a film it fails. I give it 6/10 because of the content, not the presentation.



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