Having previously made the brilliant film Fog of War about Robert McNamara, American Defense Secretary during the Vietnam war, Errol Morris turned to another high profile controversial figure from the US, Donald Rumsfeld.
This time around, Morris didn’t quite achieve the same heights as he did in Fog of War. That earlier film made you feel he got under the skin of his subject and offered insight about who he really was. This time, it feels more like shadow boxing all the way through without Rumsfeld ever taken beyond the answers he was happy to give.
In that respect, it is rather like the earlier interviews David Frost did with Richard Nixon, digging into Watergate, but without the dramatic moments when, finally after repeated trying, Frost got Nixon to reveal more than he wished.
That said, the Front/Nixon and Fog of War yardsticks are very high ones to judge The Unknown Known by and there is plenty to enjoy in the shadow boxing, especially for the classic Morris style of interweaving images of his character at work in the past with his interview footage.
Plus for people who only know the 21st-century version of Donald Rumsfeld, there is much of interest from his earlier career, including how he could have ended up as President of the USA.
If you like this, you might also be interested in The Fog of War.