The Fog Of War


Directed by: Errol Morris
Released: May 6, 2004
Grade: A

Robert Strange McNamara is now 85 years of age and the stories he can tell will leave audiences gasping for more.  He has done much since his birth in 1916.  He lectured in Business Administration at Harvard, he was an Air Force Captain during World War II, he was President of the Ford Motor Company and he was President of the World Bank.

Despite these achievements, most Americans will remember him as Secretary of Defence of the United States Of America during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations of the 1960s.  McNamara oversaw the Vietnam War which many regard today as one of America’s great mistakes.  I guess the timing of this film is somewhat appropriate considering the current conflict in Iraq.

The Fog Of War is a smart documentary put together by director Errol Morris.  Initally, Morris wanted to put together a short segment for a television series.  After interviewing Morris for the first time, he realised this story deserved a wider audience.  In all, Morris interviewed McNamara for over 20 hours and this film features the best of what McNamara had to say, mixed with archival footage and old audio tapes of McNamara speaking to political heavyweights.

What impressed me most was Morris’s obvious decision not to take a side on the McNamara debate.  There are some who heavily criticised McNamara during his time as Secretary of Defence but there were others who praised his work.  This film does not try to categorise everything as black and white.  Morris understands there is much grey and the overall impression we will form on McNamara has not been influenced by his own opinions.

The full title of the film is The Fog Of War: Eleven Lessons From The Life Of Robert S. McNamara.  The film is focused around these eleven lessons and whilst they are not new, they carry an extra significance given the person who is speaking them.  The lessons weren’t all learnt from Vietnam.  The film does focus on his time as Secretary of Defence but does look at many other aspects of his early life.

It’s unusual to see a big-note soundtrack to a documentary feature but Morris secured brilliant composer Philip Glass (The Hours, Kundun) to craft a hypnotically repetitive score ideally suited to the subject material.  I’ll be ducking down to my local music store to pick up a copy of the soundtrack as soon as I get the opportunity.  I also think I’ll be buying the dvd when released because it is a great example of how to put together a documentary.  Morris does not linger too long on any one point and uses old television and movie footage to compliment McNamara’s words.

After taking home the Oscar for best documentary at this year’s Academy Awards, The Fog Of War has received deserved attention.  2004 looks like being the year of the documentary and if they continue to be released with such high quality, I’ll welcome even more big screen documentaries in 2005 and beyond!