When Errol Morris interviewed Robert McNamara for 2003’s “The Fog of War,” he encountered a man who was, to a surprising degree, contrite about his decisions in carrying out the Vietnam War as Nixon’s former secretary of Defense. No such contriteness is on view in Morris’s new documentary, “The Unknown Known,” featuring Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush’s former secretary of Defense.
Although the movie goes way back into Rumsfeld’s career, it is the Iraq section that is the most noteworthy – and disappointing. Morris elicits virtually nothing revelatory from Rumsfeld. Whether he is denying that the military ever waterboarded prisoners or insisting that the Bush administration never claimed Saddam Hussein had anything to do with 9/11, Rumsfeld is eerily unflappable. Morris is too polite, or too something, to push back on Rumsfeld. Crucial questions go unasked or else hang in midair. “Why are you talking to me?” Morris asks Rumsfeld at the end. “That’s a vicious question. I’ll be damned if I know,” he answers. That makes two of us. Grade: B- (Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images and brief nudity.)