For a generation of the political left Donald Rumsfield was a boogeyman like no other. For five years the Secretary of Defense under President George W Bush, Rumsfield was the architect of the two biggest pieces of the “War on Terror” that marked a substantial part of the Bush legacy: the invasion and occupation of both Iraq and Afghanistan. Rumsfield occupied the same head space for a new generation that Richard Nixon had occupied in the ‘70s; alongside Dick Cheney, Bush’s Vice President for both terms, Rumsfield occupied a rare air as a sort of war-mongering poster boy for the radical set.
The Unknown Known is a full length interview documentary on Rumsfield featuring Errol Morris getting nearly two hours to grill Rumsfield on his political life. It’s presented in a similar style as Tyson, with an interviewer getting to be able to probe “Rummy” about the life and times of someone who was near the throne of power during one of the most tumultuous times in American history.
The problem is that Morris seems to be thinking he’ll eventually get his Frost/Nixon moment, where Rumsfield will confess his sins and blubber his way into some sort of forgiveness, and Rumsfield wants nothing of the sort. Morris is trying to do his best 1970s David Frost impression but Rumsfield isn’t taking the bait in any aspect. This is the equivalent of a poster on a message board about politics getting the chance to interview the one person they dislike in the world … and expecting it to be much more cinematic than it turns out to be.
Morris wants Rumsfield to “confess” his wrongdoings and beg for forgiveness, it seems, like Nixon did. Nixon, though, wanted to be forgiven and the Frost/Nixon interview series were the first step in a generation moving on from Watergate. That interview was calculated, as Nixon wanted to use it as a step to rehab his image, whereas Rumsfield is seemingly doing this for the fun. Morris is calculating in his questions and it feels like he’s trying to turn this into his big career-making moment.
The problem is that he never really gets the big home run, kill shot in and gets Rumsfield to say what he wants to say. Morris wants that grand moment, to be immortalized like David Frost and 20 years from now get the grand exultation in film/play form as the man who got the anti-Christ of the Bush administration to apologize for his sins and beg for forgiveness from people who share his progressive political beliefs. Rumsfield isn’t Nixon, who wanted redemption. Rumsfield isn’t having it and is dealing with someone who doesn’t know how to at least get something interesting out of the longtime politico.
It winds up being two hours of Rumsfield defending himself with someone who doesn’t know how to properly coax the answers he wants out of someone. It makes for two dull and almost pointless hours.
There’s not much on this of note. Morris contributes a commentary, a four part Op-Ed on his thoughts on “Rummy,” and some archival footage of a younger Rumsfield.
Anchor Bay presents The Unknown Known . Directed by Errol Morris. Starring Donald Rumsfield, Errol Morris. Running time: 103 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released: July 1, 2014.
Tags: Donald Rumsfield, Frost/Nixon