The Unknown Known

Film, Documentaries
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The Unknown Known

Dealing with the subject of wordplay (and, obliquely, criminality), Errol Morris convinces slippery former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld to sit for his latest documentary. It’s a companion piece to his other political post-game interview, ‘The Fog of War’ (2003). While Robert McNamara (secretary of defence under Kennedy and Johnson) in the earlier film grappled with guilt over Vietnam, Morris’s new subject looks relaxed and comfortable, and lobs out the same old evasions.

Morris never pins down Rumsfeld on the wilful obfuscations he offered in office: not on the misinformation about Saddam, not on slipshod research that predicted a quick wrap-up in Iraq, not on anything. Instead, Morris turns the film into a comedy of vagueness. He uses on-screen blocks of drifting text, Rumsfeld’s notorious ‘unknown unknowns’ quote and shots of fluttering ‘snowflakes’ (the term for the thousands of memos he rattled off) to suggest a man hiding behind semantics. That’s not exactly an earth-shattering insight. You’re left wishing this 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 smirking dodges belong alongside those of Lance Armstrong and Justin Bieber.

By: Joshua Rothkopf


Release details

Rated: 12A
Release date: Friday March 21 2014
Duration: 103 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Errol Morris
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