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The Unknown Known (2013)

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Former United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, discusses his career in Washington D.C. from his days as a congressman in the early 1960s to planning the invasion of Iraq in 2003.


Errol Morris


Errol Morris
2 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview:
Donald Rumsfeld ... Himself
Errol Morris ... Himself - Interviewer (voice)


Former United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, discusses his career in Washington D.C. from his days as a congressman in the early 1960s to planning the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Why is this man smiling? See more »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images and brief nudity | See all certifications »






Release Date:

16 January 2014 (Italy) See more »

Also Known As:

The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$64,315, 6 April 2014, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$276,381, 29 June 2014
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby Digital



Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


This same director also made Fog of War, a similar film that featured an extensive interview with Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. Both films were highly critical of their lead subjects management of war. See more »

Crazy Credits

Ivan & Boris See more »


Featured in The Hitch (2014) See more »


White Christmas
Written by Irving Berlin
Performed by Tennessee Ernie Ford
Courtesy of Capitol Records Nashville under license from Universal Music Enterprises
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User Reviews

An interesting idea, but presented in a format that sometimes becomes quite boring
8 August 2015 | by davideo-2See all my reviews

STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning ** Sunday Night * Monday Morning

Former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld finds himself being grilled one on one by documentary maker Errol Morris in this follow up to his 2003 expose The Fog of War. A controversial figure as a result of being one of the key architects of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Rumsfeld is called to defend his actions, and is put in the spotlight about some glaring inconsistencies in the thousands of memos, 'snowflakes', as he called them, that he was fond of writing that questioned the validity of the invasions. At the same time, Morris presents some of the background of his subject, from being the youngest and then the oldest holder of his post, as well as serving under no less than four US presidents.

Being remembered, as it will, as the first big war of the 21st century, the invasion of Iraq is still seen by many as a massive travesty, and a gross abuse of power, that many still want answers to. In some small way, Errol Morris here attempts a stab at this, by gaining access to one of the key figures at the heart of the matter. Throwing the spotlight completely on Rumsfeld, the man and his foibles are exposed for all to see, and with no escape. The title of the film is a part of one of the man's most confusing and tongue twisting uses of language, that probably makes a lot of sense to him, but just confuses (and infuriates) most others. He continues with this type of garble throughout, and often rounds it off with that questionable grin of his that will make him even harder to stomach for those already unconvinced by his rhetoric.

The film covers a lot of interesting ground, and has much back story to ponder over, but there's little to be distracted from than a man sitting down and talking to a camera, which is inevitably boring at times and causes your attention to wonder. It might also be a case of too much information to take in, at a running time stretching to just over an hour and a half. All the same, I can say I preferred it to The Fog of War, with Morris somehow managing to make it all just a little more digestible and affecting.

Rumsfeld doesn't come off as an entirely desirable guy, a man who clearly uses language designed to sound clever but obviously just with the purpose of confusing, whose nonsense is signed off with a patronising smile, and who leaves a lot of unanswered questions on the lips of those affected by the not completely kosher decisions he was part of making. For those who already weren't fond of him, it won't make them feel any better, whilst others will just see the man behind the suit, and have to make their own mind up. Morris has brought him out in a manner that has a lot of interesting material, but not the most thrilling execution. ***

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