Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts

Movie review: Rumsfeld smiles and double-talks through ‘The Unknown Known’
Review » Errol Morris tries to find truth about Iraq War.
First Published Apr 11 2014 09:42 am • Last Updated Apr 16 2014 11:37 am

A decade ago, in "The Fog of War," filmmaker Errol Morris sat former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara in front of his famed Interrotron camera and asked about the decisions during the Vietnam War that led to the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and countless Vietnamese people.

Now, in "The Unknown Known," Morris puts another former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, in the Interrotron to ask about the decisions that prompted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — which led to the deaths of thousands of American soldiers and countless Afghani and Iraqi people.

At a glance

HHHhj

‘The Unknown Known’

Filmmaker Errol Morris puts a smiling Donald Rumsfeld in the hot seat, but the former defense secretary refuses to give an inch about the failure of the Iraq War.

Where » Broadway Centre Cinemas.

When » Opens Friday, April 11.

Rating » PG-13 for some disturbing images and brief nudity

Running time » 103 minutes.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

There’s one major difference between the two films, and it comes down to the different attitudes of McNamara and Rumsfeld. McNamara was introspective and thoughtful about the damage done by America’s actions in Vietnam. There is no such introspection in Rumsfeld — only the same snarky double-talk that he displayed during his tenure in the George W. Bush administration.

Morris has Rumsfeld narrate his own story, using some of the 20,000 memos he wrote during his six years in office (2001-06) — memos so frequent that Pentagon staffers referred to them as "snowflakes."

An early example: a memo to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, in which he suggests the possibility of using nuclear weapons against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. This memo is dated July 27, 2001 — more than a month before 9/11, and when Bush administration officials later would say they had no intentions at all against Iraq.

But when Morris asks Rumsfeld about the Bush administration’s "obsession" with Iraq, Rumsfeld rebuts him. It wasn’t an obsession, Rumsfeld insists now, but "a very nuanced approach."

And so it goes for an hour and a half, as Rumsfeld attacks the premise of every question Morris asks — and, in the process, avoids answering most of them.

Occasionally, Morris employs the "Daily Show" trick of using Rumsfeld’s words against him. One example is when Rumsfeld today denies that he or any Bush administration officials sowed the public confusion about Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent role in the 9/11 attacks — and Morris counters with a clip of Rumsfeld, circa 2003, suggesting that Saddam was involved in 9/11.

Morris gets Rumsfeld to talk about his early history: in the Nixon administration, when he avoided being tarred by Watergate; his return as Gerald Ford’s chief of staff, when he befriended defense secretary Richard Cheney and sparred with the then-director of the CIA, George H.W. Bush; and his time as special Middle East envoy to President Reagan — when Rumsfeld infamously had his photo taken shaking hands with Saddam Hussein.

But then it’s back to Rumsfeld’s work in the Bush White House — and a smiling wall of denial that he did anything wrong as Osama Bin Laden got away in Afghanistan, the Iraq invasion devolved into a quagmire and the U.S. government’s approval of torture soiled America’s reputation at home and abroad.


story continues below
story continues below

Ultimately, Morris and Rumsfeld play "The Unknown Known" to a draw, with neither getting the other to budge an inch from the mindset he had when the movie started. The fear is that moviegoers will feel the same way after seeing it.

movies@sltrib.com

Twitter: @moviecricket



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.