"There are things we know…" Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote is the basis of Errol Morris’ latest documentary - the former US Secretary of Defence is questioned about his role in the War on Terror, a role that thrust him into the limelight and made his press conferences” must-see TV.” A series of dictated memos are the basis of the structure of the documentary, with director Errol Morris questioning him over the more interesting ones.
kay. First things first. It’s not Jeremy Paxman interviewing Rumsfeld and there will be disappointment that the Fog Of War director takes it somewhat easy on his subject. On occasion Rumsfeld will deny a Morris claim and the director will slip in footage from a Rumsfeld press conference that contradicts what he’s just said, but the contradiction is never put to Rumsfeld. Apart from the occasional ‘WHAAAAT?’ from Morris, long pauses in conversation substitute for incredulous reactions to outlandish statements, like Rumsfeld’s denying of torture in Guantanamo - pauses which Paxman would fill with guffaws. The question of the multi-billion war contracts that benefited the likes of Halliburton is oddly never raised once.
nstead there’s The Donald Rumsfeld Story with images taking us through his career from 1962, the Nixon years (Rumsfeld is a Nixon apologist despite Tricky Dick firing him), onto Reagan and into the Bush era. We are even ‘treated’ to how Rumsfeld met his wife and how he proposed - in what way is this relevant to the discussion remains a mystery… unless Morris was encouraged to pull his punches by those behind the camera. There was to be no Frost/Nixon slip up here.
f Rumsfeld hopes to come across as an amiable chap who tried to make the best decisions he could under enormous duress for the sake of America and ‘freedom’ then job done. He’s smart, deconstructing Morris’ questions by analysing the words used until he’s comfortable enough to answer (a tactic that also buys him time to gather thoughts). He’s a measured and careful interviewee; at times it can be like a chess game with Morris politely going on the attack and Rumsfeld graciously defending.
hile there are those who will lament the lack of ire and will deem this a missed opportunity, hearing Rumsfeld’s take on events is still fascinating and makes this essential viewing.