Leading documentarian Errol Morris pits himself against his most formidable opponent yet – the wily Donald Rumsfeld – in this eminently fascinating film.
After serving in Nixon’s administration at the height of the Vietnam War and surviving Watergate, Rumsfeld was appointed Secretary of Defence by his great ally Dick Cheney a few months before 9/11. The larger-than-life character then became one of the key instigators of the Iraq War and proponents of the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction. As documentary subjects go, few could be so intrinsically interesting: here is a man who has helped change the face of the world, in a career that has spanned the defining moments of recent US history.
With this follow-up to his hysterical TABLOID (2010) Morris is on familiar ground: he won an Academy Award for THE FOG OF WAR (2003), which scrutinised another former Defence Secretary, Robert McNamara. This time Rumsfeld enters the ring, and it’s a gripping encounter.
With his first interview question, Morris clenches his fist and swings: “Why the obsession with Iraq and Saddam?” Rumsfeld looks into the camera with a wry smile and coolly evades the issue. Throughout he expertly bobs and weaves, dancing around the interrogation. While Nixon wiped the sweat from his brow with obvious discomfort during his infamous interview with David Frost, Rumsfeld is a picture of calm. It becomes clear, however, that Morris is taking a more cunning approach to the knockout.
Morris mines Rumsfeld’s archive of Dictaphone-recorded memos – of which there are thousands – and drops in telling news footage. As Rumsfeld slyly avoids any revealing statements, the director is able to shine a light on the obtuse and at times nonsensical political rhetoric he spins.
In one segment of the interview, Rumsfeld denies that the Americans ever thought Saddam Hussein was connected to Al-Qaeda and 9/11. Morris cuts to footage from 2003 in which Rumsfeld responds to Saddam’s statement that “Iraq has no WMD whatsoever and no link with Al-Qaeda” with the sarcastic comeback “…and Abraham Lincoln was short.” The contradiction looms large. The filmmaker has the measure of the apparently infallible interviewee.