One man’s patriot is another’s traitor; it all depends on your perspective. William Mark Felt Sr. was either the man who tried to bring a President to justice for his misdeeds…or an FBI careerist pissed off that he was passed over and got revenge on those who he thought had wronged him by using the press instead of proper channels in the Justice Department. In the same light Daniel Ellsberg was either the man who helped to bring an end to a disastrous war…or someone who committed high treason and ought to have been hung by the neck until he’s dead. The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers tells his story and the factors that led to why he did what he did.
For those who have not studied history in depth, Daniel Ellsberg was a military analyst for the Pentagon who had become disillusioned about the war based on what he saw on the ground in Vietnam as well as what he experienced while working in the Pentagon. The film is a partial biography, partial documentary about Ellsberg’s life and his experiences. It’s his story and his thoughts on the whole situation, including a detour into his thoughts on the use of nuclear weapons in World War II and his general pacifist leanings, as only he could tell it.
And what stands out about the documentary is that this isn’t a political piece, nor is it a tale of a man trying to justify what he did without pity or remorse. Ellsberg is telling a story of what he did and why he did it within the context of the time in which he did it. He makes for compelling viewing as we get to hear his story; complete with its own bias as it is purely his perspective and in the context of how he viewed history at the time, it’s interesting to see how he views it now from the rear view mirror.
Judith Ehlrich and Rick Goldsmith do a great job at providing perspective for how he’s thinking by combining archival footage with interviews with Ellsberg’s wife and other principals involved in the situation. It gives a more detailed perspective to what he did and why he did it. it’s one thing for him to be rambling on during an interview and over archival footage. It’s another to hear his wife discuss how they had to talk about him potentially going to jail for the rest of his life early in their marriage. It’s gravitas that Ellsberg himself can’t provide and gives the documentary some weight.
The Most Dangerous Man in America is thought provoking in that it takes a controversial figure in American history and gives him a forum to explain what he did and why he did it with historical context to provide a justification for it. Whether one agrees with his opinions or not, The Most Dangerous Man in America is at a minimum a unique look back at American history from someone who helped to influence it.
Presented in a Dolby Digital format in a widescreen presentation, the audio is solid but unspectacular while the video is erratic because it attempts to combine archival footage that isn’t in good shape with good digital footage from today. The archival footage is noticeably scratched up and aged from over the years which make it contrast from the modern footage quite noticeably.
The Nixon Tapes from Richard Nixon are included where he discusses Ellsberg,
Naomi Wolf and Woody Harrelson are interviewed about Ellsberg.
Trailers for the film are included as well.
Political documentaries come and go and most of them are not very good. The fact that The Most Dangerous Man in America is good makes it worth a watch, if only for another perspective on the time period.
First Run Features presents The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. Directed by Judith Ehlrich and Rick Goldsmith. Starring Daniel Ellsberg. Running time 92 minutes. Not rated. Released on DVD July 20, 2010.