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Sky Atlantic Documentary Season: The Unknown Known Review

The-Unknown-Known_Donald Rumsfeld 620x387

Director: Errol Morris

Cast: Donald Rumsfeld, Errol Morris

Running Time: 103 minutes

Synopsis: Former U.S Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, discusses his career. from his days as a congressman in the early 1960s to planning the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

THE UNKNOWN KNOWN is based on an extensive interview with Donald Rumsfeld that discusses his long career from congressman to Secretary of Defence. The film is interspersed with readings of ‘snowflakes’, which are memos and emails written by Rumsfeld during his political career.

Rumsfeld discusses these memos as a way to communicate with his staff, however they also provide a little insight as Rumsfeld uses the memos to voice his opinions. These intimate readings are then discussed by Rumsfeld, delving into some of the most notable events over his long career.

With a film directed by Errol Morris you come to expect a brazen interview with Rumsfeld hoping to uncover some hidden truths. However, Morris shies away from assuming his role of providing an interrogation style interview; Rumsfeld’s eloquent responses divert attention away from providing any significant or interesting fact about his political career. It’s hard to tell just how honest Rumsfeld’s interview was when he seemed to be the one in control. But it’s no secret that the man can manoeuvre a conversation and avoid the subject at hand.

The film’s title is aptly named after a quote from Rumsfeld’s. ‘There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.’ The spirit of the quote nicely summarises the documentary, a linguistic web of avoidance. The quote, first heard in 2002, signified Rumsfeld’s non-answer to a question regarding weapons of mass destruction and the validity of going to war with Iraq.

It’s Morris’s lack of pressure on Rumsfeld which is what unfortunately lets the film down. The film appears to be a visual memoir of Rumsfeld’s political career, instead of cutting to the facts and discussing the brutal events surrounding his time as Defence Secretary. The film shows an unrepentant Rumsfeld which makes for an uninteresting documentary, especially since Errol Morris is at its helm.

Morris is a man decorated for his artistic aesthetic and tough documentary style. He succeeds in assembling a visual documentary but the interview with Rumsfeld fails to excite its audience. Morris’s camerawork is noteworthy; having Rumsfeld facing his audience provides an intimate and engaging attitude. Danny Elfman teams up with Morris again to provide an amazing score. The music and the visual presentation Morris illustrates are what make this movie interesting; unfortunately his main subject falls flat.

[usr=2] THE UNKNOWN KNOWN makes its Sky Atlantic debut on Wednesday June 11th. For all our Sky Atlantic Documentary Season coverage, please click here. It’s also available on Sky’s On Demand services, and through Sky’s multiplatform TV service Sky Go.

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