Structured around 11 “life lessons” learned by former Secretary of Defense Robert S.McNamara, Errol Morris’ documentary takes us through McNamara’s life and concentrates onhis role in the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. Extensive war footage is intercut withMcNamara’s direct address to the camera, while off-screen we occasionally here Morris askquestions. Still incredibly vigorous and forceful in his 80s, McNamara is a compelling speaker.His descriptions of just h…w very close the world came to nuclear war over Cuba (and evenMcNamara didn’t realize how close until 1992) is deeply chilling. As the narrative moves intothe Vietnam War, McNamara becomes more evasive and frustrating, not always answeringMorris’ questions as directly or in as much detail as one would like. Even that opacity, however,suggests further interpretations of the film’s title.
One wouldn’t necessarily expect much surround work from a feature-length interview, butthere are some nice effects here. Philip Glass’ haunting score is very well rendered, with great,sinister bass, though the music is perhaps a bit rear-heavy. There are some great sound effectsof bombs and whatnot (and again with plenty of ominous low tones), when called for, andMcNamara’s voice is always perfectly clear.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen picture is sharp, with fine flesh tones. There is what lookslike very slight ghosting when McNamara gestures. These characteristics, of course, apply to theinterview footage. There is plenty of grain otherwise, depending on the quality of the newsfootage. To expect anything different would be unreasonable.
There are 24 extra scenes here — all short snippets of McNamara expounding on one pointor another. McNamara’s 10 lessons are presented in expanded text form. The only other extrasare trailers: the theatrical trailer and two TV spots for the feature, plus Big Fish andWinged Migration. The menu is basic.
A gripping documentary, as fascinating as it can also be frustrating. The extras are a bit thin,and even a short featurette exploring Morris’ interviewing techniques would have beenwelcome.
Special Features List
- 24 Additional Scenes
- Robert S. McNamara’s 10 Lessons
- Trailers and TV Spots