Most protesters spoke out against the Vietnam War by marching in the street. Daniel Ellsberg found a different way to express his dissent. As a member of Robert McNamara's "best and brightest" team that essentially engineered our nation's entry into the skirmish, this handsome insider hawk was privy to a top-secret dossier that detailed how various executive administrations had lied about the conflict. So in a moment of monumental civil disobedience, Ellsberg leaked these classified "Pentagon Papers" to the press in 1971, and President Nixon demanded the whistle-blower's head on a plate.
A documentary detailing Ellsberg's journey from RAND analyst to radical activist has been long overdue. So it's a pity that Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith's portrait skews sentimental and employs stylistic misfires, such as those cheesy "dramatizations" featuring an actor flipping through files in the shadows. But when the film turns to its archival treasure trove both to pay tribute and point fingers, you get a clear sense of what Ellsberg's act contributed to history. His "treason" gave credence to ending the war, helped push a corrupt administration toward its ruin and underlined the importance of the First Amendment. Rickety doc or not, Ellsberg deserves every ounce of hero worship he gets here.---David Fear
Now playing; Film Forum. Find showtimes