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"The Fog of War"

Directed by Errol Morris.  
Release Year:  2003 
Review Date:  1/30/04

I wouldn’t have read it were it not for Man About Town Brett Stone, but I have read it and I can confirm it:  This link is the funniest video-game-related article I have ever read, and further, I think it is my new favorite Sports Guy article.  If you have ever played any version of video-game football ever, you MUST read the second half of this link (starting at “Thursday, 12:45 ET”):

Man, I love laughing.  Enjoy the big game.


After the Oscar nominations were announced on Tuesday, I decided to spend money on films that were in the running for the big awards before I come out with my picks for your local Oscar pool over the next four weeks.  Sadly, I have seen almost every film nominated for an Oscar already—the main problem when you see 130 films in one calendar year—so I am stretching now to take in documentaries, cartoons and short films just to have something to do.

(Seriously, I went down the list again this morning, and if you throw out short and foreign films—most of those, if not all, have not been released in theaters here—there are only seven films I haven’t seen.  This may mean I am going to have to bite the bullet on a couple of these, including “Brother Bear” and “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”  Pity the fool.)

First up is “The Fog of War”, the documentary on former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, told entirely from his accounts in interviews two years ago.  While working for President Kennedy, and then LBJ in the early-to-mid 1960s, McNamara estimates that we almost went into nuclear war with Cuba and Russia at least three times...and, over the course of the film, McNamara gives us eleven lessons that he took away from his experiences, including time he spent in the service and the things he learned from World War II, as well as the numerous problems he faced when dealing with the conflict in Vietnam.

I didn’t know much about McNamara coming into the film, but I left the theater last night with a new perspective on how our nation’s armed forces were utilized and, at various points, misused during about 35 years of service.  There are some scary insights pointed out by McNamara, even IF his perspective seems skewed at times, and writer/director Errol Morris does a good job of incorporating footage of a younger McNamara during key points in his career.  At times the film is quite touching; a sequence where McNamara details the day he got the phone call about JFK’s demise is maybe the best of the movie. 

Much like the Robert Evans biopic “The Kid Stays in the Picture”, the worst thing about “The Fog of War”—or maybe the best thing, if you look at it the other way—is that we only get the perspective of McNamara, and I think an independent narrator or insights from other luminaries of the period would have made the film more interesting.  Also, the original score by Philip Glass seems to have almost no variety, so each time McNamara finishes a story, we get to hear that familiar song with that damned flute over and over again, and then we get a minute of shots of men loading ordnance on planes, or guns being fired, or bombs being dropped.  This footage is good, it just comes too often to serve as a bridge from interview to interview.  Finally, the film’s epilogue seems to fall flat on its face, since McNamara doesn’t want to talk about Vietnam any more.  Why even include this in the film?

Ultimately, “The Fog of War” isn’t as eye-opening as my front-runner for the feature doc Oscar, “Capturing the Friedmans.”  I learned something, which is good, but I’m not intrigued to ever see the film again.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09