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The Unknown Known

Errol Morris convinces slippery former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to sit for his latest documentary, a companion piece to his other political postgame interview, The Fog of War. Maybe booking Rummy wasn't so hard after all: Whereas Fog's Robert McNamara grappled with guilt over the Vietnam war (a quagmire he largely brought into being), Morris's new subject looks relaxed and comfortable as ever lobbing out the same old evasions. He probably loves the attention from the Oscar-winning director.
 
Regretfully, never once does Morris pin down Rumsfeld on the willful obfuscations he offered in office (and continues to offer now): not on the misinformation about Saddam Hussein, not on slipshod research that predicted a quick wrap-up in Iraq, not on anything. Instead, Morris turns the film into a sumptuous comedy of vagueness. He uses onscreen blocks of drifting text, Rumsfeld's notorious "known unknowns" quote, and shots of fluttering "snowflakes" (the term for the thousands of internal memos the cabinet member rattled off) to suggest a man hiding behind semantics. That's not exactly a groundbreaking insight. After a while, you wish the profile had been shortened and featured in a collection of other famous evaders, similar in structure to Morris's Fast, Cheap & Out of Control: Rumsfeld's smirks belong alongside those of Lance Armstrong, George Zimmerman and Justin Bieber.

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

Release details

Rated: PG-13
Release date: Wednesday April 2 2014
Duration: 103 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Errol Morris
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