Errol Morris is a film craftsman. His films tell challenging stories in visually interesting ways. The Fog of War won the Academy Award for Best Documentary and it is also one of Morris’ best films. The film is built around interviews with Robert S. McNamara. The score by Philip Glass moves the film forward with a steady pace along with archival footage, stills and significant, but understated visuals illuminate, but don’t distract from the lessons of the film. Morris knows how to build a film from various elements that suit the material and The Fog of War is divided into 11 lessons as the organizational principle. While the man and his personal insight are at the centre of the film, it is a fascinating glimpse into the history of the United States and how individuals shape that history. McNamara is amazing to watch and he engages with Morris through the Interrotron, which is a camera with television in front of it. McNamara at one point outlines a fundamental rule for dealing with the media - “Never answer the question that has been asked of you. Answer the question you wish you had been asked.”
Is McNamara spinning us? Yes, of course. But what is the truth? How do we know what happened? How do we know what will happen? These questions form the core of many of Morris’ films and he doesn’t flinch from dealing with them. One of the many things that I admire in Morris’ work is how he lets the audience make up their mind. He takes a point of view, he presents evidence, but he doesn’t hide edits. With earlier Morris films he would insert some black frames to indicate that parts of an interview were cut out, but now he jump cuts because I think that with the interviews it would probably be distracting. The biggest challenge in making a non-fiction film is treating the interviewees with respect, presenting them fairly and telling the story with all of the pieces fitting together to illuminate a life, tell a story and to give us some insight. Errol Morris does that very well and I’m glad that he’s making films.