The latest of Errol Morris's meetings with remarkable men finds the acclaimed filmmaker's patented "Interrotron" camera contraption pointed at former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, a man who'd become so closely identified with the conflict in Vietnam that the whole debacle became known as "McNamara's War." With his thinning hair still slicked back into his trademark coif, the 85-year-old McNamara first offers a quick summation of his formative years — a poor childhood in San Francisco, a good education at Berkeley and the Harvard Business School, a tour of duty as a captain in the air force during WWII — then his 14-year stint at General Motors that culminated in his promotion to company president in 1960. But after only seven weeks in his new office, McNamara resigned; he'd been tapped by John F. Kennedy to serve as his Secretary of Defense in his cabinet, and was immediately plunged into the thickening quagmire of Vietnam. McNamara's tenure carried over into the Johnson administration, and by the time McNamara left mid-term to head the World Bank, the still undeclared war had escalated to horrendous proportions. As historically relevant as all this may be, Morris is ultimately far more interested in what happened forty years after fall of Saigon, when, in 1995, McNamara published his explosive memoir In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. Within the first few pages this former bogeyman of the antiwar movement candidly admits that when it came to Vietnam, he and his fellow decision makers had been "wrong, terribly wrong." Clearly fascinated with what at first appears to be a drastic change of heart on McNamara's part, Morris gives his subject wide berth to explain how he'd had serious doubts about committing U.S. troops to South Vietnam even before the Kennedy assassination, and that by 1967 he'd become convinced that the threat of a communist domino-effect across Southeast Asia had been greatly exaggerated. He now believes that we could have — and should have — brought our troops home as early as 1963. Those already familiar with McNamara's book will notice few revelations here, and Morris's nonconfrontational style allows McNamara to basically recite passages from his book in toto — a teary performance he's polished to perfection during countless interviews. Asked why he didn't speak out a the time, McNamara has his answer at the ready: He was simply, faithfully, serving his president. Asked if he feels guilty, he declines to comment. They're answers that will either earn your respect, or further damn him as the architect of an American nightmare.
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- Released: 2003
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: The latest of Errol Morris's meetings with remarkable men finds the acclaimed filmmaker's patented "Interrotron" camera contraption pointed at former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, a man who'd become so closely identified with the conflict in Vie… (more)