With all the mayhem that’s followed, the Obama years already feel somehow grassed over – a stately reminder of when politics was, well, kinda normal. This snappy, access-nearly-all-areas look at how his fiercely clued-up foreign policy team spent their final 12 months should feel almost nostalgic, then. Instead, it’s brimming with fascinating insights into the skill, conviction and sheer slog that went into tackling several rogue states, climate change and the odd dead cockroach on the West Wing floor without losing optimism, sanity or custody of the kids.
Director Greg Barker spent the full 12 months with Obama’s team. Though he snags only a single interview with the POTUS himself, the film rides shotgun with key team members, including UN Ambassador Samantha Power, speechwriter Ben Rhodes, Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, as they race from trilateral talks to UN addresses to keynote speeches.
Barker, who charted the hunt for Osama Bin Laden with ‘Manhunt’, brings that same ticking-clock tension to the White House. With the months running down, Obama and his team tear around the globe in a final splurge of policy implementation they hope will long outlast them. It’s a blur of airport runways, limos and government buildings that feels like the midway point between ‘The West Wing’ and ‘Fast & Furious’. When Rice disappears for a chunk of the runtime, you half-wonder if she isn’t packing Iran’s nuclear programme into the back of a Dodge Charger or doing burnouts in Air Force One.
Power and Rhodes are the MVPs here: the former, steely but warm; the latter, bullish and prone to throwing noses out of joint. The emergence of you-know-who, an ever-present on the team’s TV screens, as a serious presidential candidate brings a third-act twist. It’s great viewing, but leaves a pall hanging over the team.
Understandably, the idea that all of their achievements may be undone in a matter of months isn’t tackled head on. Still, there’s plenty of other human moments to relish, big and small: from Obama’s emotional speech at Hiroshima to Power’s young daughter telling her influential mum off for swearing. Regardless of your political leanings, it’s hard not to feel inspired by the idealism and devotion of this group of people. Their pest-control techniques? Not so much.