THE FINAL YEAR: a most wistful documentary

A scene from THE FINAL YEAR, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

In the documentary The Final Year, we get to peek inside the last year of the Obama foreign policy.  Director Greg Barker’s cameras go behind the scenes to follow Secretary of State John Kerry, UN Ambassador Samantha Power and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes as they travel the globe to keep the peace and mitigate conflict.

We see a lot of movies about the military and the intelligence services, so it’s a rare and welcome treat to watch diplomacy in action.

The Final Year primarily depicts and references the Obama Administration’s signature accomplishments – the Iran nuclear deal, avoiding catastrophe in North Korea, the Paris climate accords – along with the challenges of Syria.

We tend to see these folks as talking heads on television, so it’s humanizing to see them in candid moments.  However, this is hardly a warts-and-all expose, and sometimes the tone even reaches reverent or fawning.  Rhodes even gets the chance to evade responsibility for  a basic political mistake – letting a reporter exploit his words.

It’s impossible to watch The Final Year in early 2018 without comparing these folks with the current administration.  Whatever their imperfections, Kerry, Power and Rhodes are serious, competent people trying to implement a coherent foreign policy in our national interest and, in the process, earning the respect of other nations.  The juxtaposition with the clown show of the current Administration is alarming and profoundly sad.

[SPOILER: In the final shot before the closing credits, the very-soon-to-be-former President Obama  says, “Are we done here? Okay, see you later.” and turns down a White House corridor with his security detail for perhaps the last time.  It’s heartbreakingly wistful.]

The Final Year opens in the Bay Area on Friday.

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