The Iraq war has been the defining issue in American politics for the last four years. This is an issue that is so contentious it has become really easy to get lost in all the televised arguments. Day to day news reports all focus on immediate issues and usually feature a lot of talking heads arguing with each other. The new documentary, No End in Sight, avoids this kind of reporting and focuses on the big picture.
The documentary is an account of what went wrong in the Iraq war from its start up through around the time the film was released earlier this year. It is made up primarily of interviews augmented by images and occasionally narration. Among those interviewed are Col. Paul Hughes, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, General Jay Garner, Ambassador Barbara Bodine, Richard Armitage, and Robert Hutchings.
The film is nothing like the familiar style of Michael Moore or Morgen Spurlock, it seems to have more in common with the 2005 documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. Both films looked at highly publicized controversies, took a step back and asked “how did we get here?” In many ways this is like a historical analysis of very recent events rather than a contemporary editorial. Events that I more or less shrugged at when they happened, like the post invasion looting, seem like much more important events in retrospect than they did at the time.
The film is surprisingly not overly anti-Bush, in fact the president isn’t even mentioned very often in the documentary. The higher up someone is in the presidential food chain, the less screen time they seem to get in the documentary. The figure that most directly gets blamed for the mismanagement in Iraq is L. Paul Bremer, who made the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi military and banned former Ba’th party members (who were mostly apolitical and only joined for their own safety) from positions in the new government. George W. Bush is mostly only blamed for allowing others to make poor decisions and largely seems to have had very little involvement in Iraq at all.
If you couldn’t tell from the title, the film leaves little room for hope in the future. By the end of the documentary the insurgency is in full force, Bagdad is divided neighborhood by neighborhood and protected by various forces and it looks like the Iraqi people are about ready to give up on democracy and follow a strong man like Muqtada al-Sadr. If the film is one sided it’s only because those who ran the war are not willing to talk about it. Throughout the film title cards explaining that those being criticized refused to be interviewed. But this is not a biased and fiery liberal rant. Director Charles Ferguson seems to have put a lot of effort into making this a very well researched and even handed account.
No End in Sight is Charles Ferguson’s first film. Ferguson became independently wealthy after creating a software company, and has come to filmmaking in order to tell a story he rightly finds important. This is by no means the most inventive documentary you will find and some of the editing Ferguson employs during the interviews seem amateurish, but these are only minor flaws. This is an interesting work of recent historical research and is a good place to go to catch up on current events.
***1/2 out of four