Saturday, November 26, 2011

J. Edgar (2011)


For those of us born after 1972, it is routine to see government directors arrive in a new post, serve their designated appointments, and move on to be replaced by another bureaucrat.  However, for those a bit more mature, they will remember the FBI as a place where turnover at the top did not occur.  One man, J. Edgar Hoover, molded that organization into the domestic crime fighting force it is today and would react severely towards real and perceived threats to his power, even from multiple Presidents of the United States. 
As the subject of Clint Eastwood’s first true biopic, J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) is profiled from his beginning at the early form of the Bureau of Investigations, through his rise to power, and finally as an old man clinging and clutching his valuable secrets at his last breath.  J. Edgar’s story is mostly told through flashbacks which is the only way one could include all of the important episodes in his history.  If it was chronological, there would be too many cuts, jumps, and abrupt time shifts.  The flashback angle allows Eastwood to go back and focus on a particular era for 15-20 minutes or so and come back to an old J. Edgar.
Eastwood and screenplay writer Dustin Lance Black do not skimp on the history either.  Early on, there is Edgar’s beloved boss Mitchell Palmer (Geoff Pierson) and the rise of the internal Bolshevik threat.  The perceived peril of communism and its conniving sympathizers contributes more than anything else to Edgar’s perseverance to raise the FBI’s stature and crime fighting abilities to stem what he says as an aggressive Red Tide.  Another flashback later on shows Edgar’s appointment as the Bureau’s interim director, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, street fights against Depression era bank robbers, and the introduction of his life-long male companion Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). 
The film does not directly take a strong side in Edgar and Tolson’s relationship.  That Edgar is most likely a closeted homosexual is a given in the film, but as to whether or not the two work colleagues and daily lunch and dinner companions ever consummate their relationship is strategically avoided.  Nobody will ever know so why invent scenes which will throw the film onto another track?  Edgar’s long time secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), is also around throughout the decades to carry out her boss’s not particularly ethical or legal commandments concerning wiretaps and confidential files.  In the background, but certainly not hiding her influence, is Edgar’s mother (Judi Dench).  She is far too involved in his personal and professional life, much too emotionally controlling, but none of these traits seems odd to her or Edgar.  It is how they prefer it.
The makeup and ageing affects on all three of the central characters (Edgar, Clyde, and Helen) are usually remarkable.  Edgar’s eyes appear far too young to be hiding behind extensive layers of liver spots and wrinkly jowls.  Armie Hammer is very convincing as a physically challenged stroke victim, but not so much before that and Naomi Watts ages quite gracefully but noticeably sags and shuffles a tad slower than in her younger days. 
The lighting is almost a character unto itself.  Eastwood does not hide what he is doing at all.  Edgar’s face is frequently half dark and half light, especially when he witnesses illegal acts or is weighing difficult decisions.  The interior lights are extremely dim because the lamps only light about a foot of space around them and the daytime outside light which streams into Edgar’s office is stale and almost lime green in color giving off an air of ageing and a bygone era. 
J. Edgar will appear to history buffs, biopic fans, Eastwood appreciators, admirers of DiCaprio’s fine acting skills, and Dustin Lance Black’s writing aficionados.  If the movie patron is seeking action or shoot-em-ups between the FBI and John Dillinger, go back and watch Michael Mann’s Public Enemies.  That film is still fresh enough in the public’s mind that J. Edgar wisely sidesteps the re-telling of that particular episode in the FBI’s early years.  Instead, settle in for a fascinating and refreshing reminder of many of America’s 20th century criminal and crime-fighting episodes. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Immortals (2011)


It is a bad omen for a movie if its poster proudly proclaims, “From the Producers of…”  That is code for the producers made so much money on an earlier film that they are going to rip off what they think made them so much money the first time and make another movie out of it.  Therefore, Immortals is the direct rip off of 300.  Instead of Spartans vs. Persians, there is now King Hyperion and his legions vs. about a hundred Hellenic Greeks and Theseus.  The real immortals (Zeus, Athena, etc…) are only a supporting cast in their own titled film. 
Theseus (Henry Cavill) is a mama’s boy.  He is a peasant, apparently a child of rape, and shunned by the village elite.  Consequently, he declines to join the Army and only wishes to stay by his mother’s side and protect her from all evil.  He has very good protective skills though as he was trained since he was a boy by a guy known only as Old Man (John Hurt).  Every village seems to have one of these guys.  Old Man instructed Theseus in the arts of sword, spear, various athletics, philosophy, rhetoric, and any other subject Theseus might need to prove himself later in life. 
After his village is brutally attacked, Theseus’s new life post-village youth era can now begin as he has a blood vengeance to settle against the cruel King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke).  Hyperion is intimidating with his menacing voice, his unparalleled brutality, and vicious facial scars.  Unfortunately, all of that built up fear vanishes the moment he puts on his Donnie Darko bunny helmet for battle.  This accessory might be the worst costume device ever provided to a central character since the pink bunny outfit from A Christmas Story.  Also on his journey, Theseus acquires a few members who join his gang including the thief Stavros (Stephen Dorff) and a visionary Oracle Phaedra (Frieda Pinto).  It appears Dorff has descended again to mass market blockbuster extravaganzas after his turn in last year’s arty Somewhere.
The first two thirds of Immortals are there to set up the final battle which consumes the final third of the film; think The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.  The set up and battle here is nowhere near as epic as those in the Rings films, but the (fake) sets here are still quite effective.  In particular, the Titans, whom Zeus (Luke Evans) and the other Gods imprisoned eons ago in Mt. Tartarus and who Hyperion is trying to free, are held in a prison I will not soon forget.  Not only are they inside a mountain, but they are in a cube carved into a sunken section of rock, chained together in standing lines, and are made to bite down on metal poles.  Their circumstances would be hell for 30 seconds, let alone the millennia they have supposedly suffered there. 
The director, Tarsem Singh, known for his creative visual style in films such as The Cell and The Fall, uses his style once again to really create some intriguing and fantastic sets.  The same cannot be said for the writers.  Instead of focusing their attention on plausible and appropriate dialogue, the script authors used their time and effort to dream up creative and gruesome ways for Hyperion to torture, degrade, and dehumanize practically every person he comes into contact with.  This helps establish his probable insanity and serial maiming tendencies, but the dialogue throughout the film in a huge thorn in its side.  Before setting a monk on fire, Hyperion produces a pithy one-liner such as, “Let me enlighten you.” 
Aside from the ominous movie poster, Immortals is saddled with a second omen during its credits.  Instead of “Directed by…,” it says “A Film by Tarsem.”  This is so pretentious that it is right up there with seeing the words “A Film by McG.”  Furthermore, Immortals sets itself up for a sequel.  Just in case it makes enough money to satisfy the producers again, an illogical, confusing, and ridiculous add on is attached here which provides an opening for The Immortals 2.  It has all the marks of a studio exec reaching down from his office and tasking the writers to throw something onto the end of the story. 
See Immortals for its imaginary visuals and absorbing fight scenes.  There are new ways to witness spears going through torsos and heads being removed from necks.  Do not see Immortals if rote and choppy dialogue stings your ears or you do not feel like contributing your money to guys whose sole purpose is to rip off an earlier success to guarantee them another winning weekend.  Also, avoid the Donnie Darko bunny helmet at all costs.     

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Turin Horse (2011)


It is rare to see movie walk outs; people will usually stick out rough films until the end because they willingly paid to be there.  It is rarer still to see walk outs in an art house theater because the patrons typically have more experienced expectations on contemplative and metaphorical features.  The Turin Horse will split audiences right down the middle.  Some will be mesmerized with the incredibly long takes, crisp black and white cinematography, and the relentless but futile struggle of the characters.  The other half of the audience will groan, comment to their neighbors, drop their head in the hands, and a few baffled theater-goers will just give up and leave.
The beginning monologue describes the alleged events which led to Friedrich Nietzsche’s mental collapse.  He walks out of his house in Turin and witnesses a cabman whipping his horse for being disobedient.  Nietzsche runs up to the horse, hugs it, and then spends his next 10 years in the care of his mother and sisters deep in mental illness.  The film asks, “But what happened to the horse?”  Nietzsche is not a character in The Turin Horse nor is it set in Italy; the majority of the time, you will only see an old man, his daughter, their obstinate horse, and their rural Hungarian farm house.
The opening scene is a single shot held for minutes with no interruptions.  An old man, Janos Derzsi, rides on a cart pulled by a horse in a truly blinding wind storm.  Dirt flies in his face and stings his eyes.  The horse sometimes stumbles and trips as he is not whipped by the man on the cart, but by the wind trying to push him backwards.  The camera watches them from the side, moves back behind some leafless trees, pushes all the way up until it almost brushes the horse’s nose and then repeats the process.  All the while, a monotonous organ and string melody repeats itself as if it is a cadence for the distressed travelers.
Back at the farm, the man’s daughter, Erika Bok, meets him, separates the horse from the cart, and they then spend the next two and a half hours of the film taking care of the horse, fetching water, boiling potatoes, getting dressed and undressed, and then doing all of that again.  There is precious little dialogue between anyone except when a neighbor drops by to borrow alcohol and wax philosophy, and when a band of gypsies briefly invade the family’s water supply. 
The audience waits for something to happen, expects something to happen, and little by little begin to realize that what is happening is just everyday life.  The director, Bela Tarr, says The Turin Horse is about the “heaviness of human life.”  Life does seem particularly heavy for these two characters as they fumble about in the wind storm to get water, try to get the horse to eat, and carry out even the simplest chore.  Tarr does not just glance over these chores either.  After 146 minutes, the audience will know exactly who boils the potatoes, how each of them will eat them, where they hang their clothes, and how to hook the horse up to the cart.  In 146 minutes of film, there are only 30 takes.  In an era when most movie scenes may last for an average of seconds, the scenes in The Turin Horse average almost five long minutes each. 
The description here sounds harsh, but I assure you it is accurate.  Also, I was one of the audience members who was more mesmerized by the routine movements than exasperated.  I will not recommend very many people go and sit through The Turin Horse, but I warn you not to run away from it either.  It is a very difficult film to sit through.  I do not judge those who left the theater before the film was over, I understand their disbelief.  However, when you consider that the director is slowly showing characters get worn down and begin to give up, he succeeds in showing that everyday life is a struggle to fight against.
Surprisingly, The Turin Horse won the Jury Grand Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival and is Hungary’s entry for the 2012 Best Foreign Film Oscar.  Bela Tarr said publically it will be his last film so I wonder if these prizes and accolades are for the film itself or to celebrate a retiring director.  I assume the critics and specialized film festival public truly care for The Turin Horse, but I warn you, it will test your patience and your preconceptions of how much a film is truly plot driven or just about the audience sitting back and watching.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)

In 1999, American Pie had its main character violate a warm apple pie.  In 2003, Billy Bob Thornton portrayed the most offensive, self-destructive, and felonious Santa anyone has ever imagined.  Now, attempting to grab the mantle of the most provoking and/or distasteful movie ever is A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas.  There are topless angels hanging out with Jesus, naked, lesbian nuns lathering each other in the shower, and a baby who imbibes so many illegal substances it will probably will not sober up for the next decade.
The 3D in the title is a gimmick.  It is not subtle and it is not there to emphasize action sequences or dazzle the audience with its spatial abilities.  It is there to assault the audience.  One character, while obviously hawking a brand name mentioned 3D television set and all of its revolutionary gee-whiz characteristics, points at the audience to remind them early on that “You are watching this in 3D!”  Harold (John Cho) wonders aloud if the whole 3D shtick is already passé.  The movie responds to that quickly with a scene designed to astonish the audience and make them feel better about the extra dough they just spent to rent their 3D glasses.  Eggs are thrown in slow motion, someone pees on a windshield, a more solid form of fecal matter is splashed across the side of a vehicle, and to achieve the bodily fluid trifecta, a 3D ejaculation sequence finds its way towards the audience. 
Plot is secondary to the 3D onslaught.  Once again, Harold and Kumar (Kal Penn) find themselves on a specific mission; this time it is to replace a Christmas tree to appease an angry father-in-law (Danny Trejo).  The vast majority of the film keeps that particular plot line in the background so it may focus on more immediate sub-plots and situations to incorporate more 3D wizardry.  There are Russian gangsters, Santa Claus himself, and yes, Neil Patrick Harris as Neil Patrick Harris. 
Even though there is a constant barrage of every substance imaginable being hurled at the audience in the third dimension, it is usually effective.  Kumar, still getting by in life with his preferred herb, blows smoke at the camera which produces a very interesting effect in 3D.  Harold and Kumar also have more depth to their characters than Cheech and Chong do.  They significantly expand on that stale one joke theme of being high all the time mainly because the situations they find themselves in are much more life threatening and outrageous. 
The situations do not always work though.  There is an unfortunate claymation episode and a ridiculous musical ensemble which is only there to showcase Neil Patrick Harris.  However, the humor, the shocking set-ups and pay-offs the character relentlessly dodge, and the overall extreme and foulness of the whole mess frequently work.  I slightly recommend this film even though I recognize Harold and Kumar are not making fun of 3D or commenting socially on it; they are cashing in on it.  Look past the gimmick, and you will find the next film to wear the badge of most extreme comedy; at least until the next disgusting comedy rolls out to take its place in the next year or two.      

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tower Heist (2011)

Tower Heist enjoys a coincidence of sorts in its choice of opening weekend.  The Occupy Wall Street protest is alive and well not too far from where this film is set and hundreds of other Occupy protests are simultaneously happening around the world.  Tapping into a particular segment of that angst, Tower Heist is about the blue collar vs. the mega rich; the staff (99%) vs. the penthouse owner (1%).
Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda) is a Bernard Madoff archetype who is put under penthouse arrest by the FBI for running a Ponzi scheme and defrauding his investors.  His smallest investment account happens to be the pension funds of the staff that run the vast and luxurious tower he lives on the top floor of.  Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller) plays the tower’s manager and trusted staff leader.  Stiller tries his best to pull off blue collar and Everyman characteristics here even though he was paid $15 million to try and do that.  It was Josh who convinced the rest of the staff to ensure their pensions to Arthur Shaw so he feels responsible when everything goes bust.
Josh is not going to go down without a fight though.  He is in shock that a man as rich as Arthur would swindle the meager pensions of the very employees who cook his food, take out his trash, and open his doors.  The film abruptly transforms Arthur from a nice and congenial billionaire into a miserly and insulting billionaire overnight.  During his house arrest, he relishes reminding the staff of their lowly station in life and just how replaceable they are as part of the service industry.  Whether or not a man in Arthur’s position would alter his behavior like that in reality, the script requires it of him here to provide the requisite motivation for the upcoming heist.
Casing the hotel, Josh picks up a motley crew of robbers who have no business robbing a piggy bank let alone a high-tech penthouse.  There is Josh’s brother and hotel concierge Charlie (Casey Affleck), Mr. Fitzhugh (Matthew Broderick), a former tower resident and now bankrupt banker, Enrique Dev’Reaux (Michael Pena), the brand new elevator operator, and finally there is criminal and parolee Slide (Eddie Murphy).  Josh knew Slide as a child; however, it takes awhile for Slide to remember Josh and when he does, he goes off on a not too funny rant on seizures. 
Now that the team is in place, it is very lucky the film chose to open with a sort of ‘Day in the Life’ of operating a luxury residence.  Josh performs his morning checks of the staff and conveniently runs into an assortment of supporting characters each with their own specific quirk or skill which may or may not come into play during the heist at an integral moment.  There are Miss Iovenko (Nina Arianda) who Josh reminds not to study for the Bar Exam during work hours; Odessa the maid (Gabourey Sidibe) whose skill will be revealed during the film; and there is Lester the doorman (Stephen McKinley Henderson) who is the tower’s longest serving staff member. 
Tower Heist was co-written by Ted Griffin (Ocean’s Eleven) and there are quite a few similarities to Ocean’s Eleven.  This is a very large and recognizable cast.  Frequently, I noticed the actor instead of the character which you never want to happen during a movie.  Does anyone actually remember Brad Pitt’s character from Ocean’s Eleven?  I only remember Brad Pitt the sidekick.  The caper itself is extremely elaborate and requires precise timing and coincidences.  Tower Heist follows all of the standard comedic heist film rules to cleanly fit inside of the genre.  
There are not too many laughs here though.  The only person who routinely cracks jokes and amusingly remarks about how inept everyone else can be is Slide.  Eddie Murphy has decided to revisit the realms of his better roles from Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop and shelve the utter garbage he routinely chooses to be a part of lately (Norbit, Meet Dave).  The film works without the slapstick laughs though.  The audience expects them because of the relentless previews; however, they have already seen the majority of the funny material from those brief shots.  The set up scenes before the heist are the most effective, especially the back and forth banter between Stiller and Alda.  They represent their respective economic worlds and do not want to back down from one another for fear of letting down more than themselves, but ideas and principles which embody their positions in life. 
See Tower Heist for the behind the scenes staff life in the tower and some amusing bits during the heist, but don’t expect Ocean’s Eleven.         

The Woman in the Fifth (2012)


Tom Ricks (Ethan Hawke) tells the immigration officer at the airport that he has come to Paris to live, write a novel, and take care of his daughter Chloe while his ex-wife works during the day.  He probably believes these words as he says them out loud; however, the audience quickly learns Tom is not welcomed by his ex-wife and six year old Chloe thought daddy was in prison.  We never learn exactly where Tom came from but it is most likely somewhere unpleasant.  Through a combination of errors, Tom manages to have his luggage stolen, the police are after him for violating a restraining order, and he winds up at a seedy café/hotel conveniently located at the last stop on the bus line, never a good neighborhood.  Tom Ricks has hit bottom.
The title The Woman in the Fifth refers to Margit Kadara (Kristin Scott Thomas).  While failing spectacularly at small talk at and upscale function for writers and their elite admirers, Tom has one of those moments where Margit is the only person in the room he sees, even though there are 50 some people in the room.  They strike up a conversation where she learns he is a novelist, has had one book published which was moderately successful, but is now obviously baffled on if there will be a second book.  Tom learns Margit has lived everywhere, speaks six or seven languages fluently, was a muse and translator for her late Hungarian husband, and now seems poised to volunteer to become Tom’s muse.
Tom falls into a job which could only be invented by a novelist.  The Woman in the Fifth is adapted from the eponymous 2007 novel by Douglas Kennedy which puts Tom in a job where he is confined to a bare room for six hours every night to watch a video screen.  When men appear at the door, they will say a prepared phrase, and if they say the correct phrase, Tom is to press the buzzer to open a door down the hall.  He does not know who these men are, why they are coming to the door, or who they are meeting behind that door.  What Tom discovers is that behind that door comes some yelling, occasional screaming, and the power fluctuates sometimes during that screaming.  This is the perfect job for a novelist who can write uninterrupted for six hours a night and the perfect mysterious predicament for a novelist to place his protagonist in.
Two other characters straight out of a novel populate Tom’s hotel.  There is the bar maid (Joanna Kulig) who takes an interest in Tom and there is his next door neighbor, Omar, who never flushes their shared toilet and takes an extra special dislike to Tom when he finds out he is American.  As Tom sleepily shuffles around Paris to visit Margit, keep tabs on his ex-wife and daughter, and spend his six hours a night behind a locked door with a buzzer, it is refreshing to see him fall back to the hotel and develop a sweet rapport with the bar maid.
The movie is mysterious, languid and seems to be setting the audience up for something.  What that ‘something’ is I will not say and you will hopefully not learn before you see the film.  Paris seems empty and lonely and after awhile I just wanted Tom to take a nap because as time progresses, he looks dead tired and unaware of his surroundings.  Pawel Pawlikowski (My Summer of Love, Last Resort), the director and screenplay adaptor, allows time to flow by and rarely defines it.  The audience loses track of how many days Tom has been in Paris or if it becomes tomorrow or the day after. 
Ethan Hawke does a very good job of keeping the audience on edge about Tom.  He is frequently quiet and contemplative as he melts into a café booth but every now and then there are loud outbursts when a bit of news or a situation displeases him.  I have seen variations of Kristin Scott Thomas as Margit before.  She is confident, knows how to relax her company, and easily handles Tom when he is falling apart; she knows exactly how to put him back together.  Joanna Kulig as the bar maid is a wonderful new presence on screen.  She is obviously native Polish like the director, but must converse in two other languages (English and French) along with the rest of the cast.  The script shows a narrative strength as I did not realize very often as it seamlessly slipped from French to English and back again.      
After the screening, I overheard a lot of people asking their friends to explain what happened and either agreeing with them in ‘aha’ moments or shaking their heads in disbelief.  The Woman in the Fifth will most likely polarize the audience between those who are familiar with films such as these and those that are unfamiliar with being blindsided and bewildered.  I recommend The Woman in the Fifth for both types of audience members.  For the indoctrinated, you will appreciate a shadowy script with a fascinating unreliable narrator.  For the untested viewer, go and enjoy an intriguing international cast and get your questions ready at the end.    

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)


Martha Marcy May Marlene continuously cuts back and forth between past and present.  However, the audience could have used a lot more past and a bit more present to help understand more about Martha (Elizabeth Olsen).  The past shows Martha’s introduction to a reclusive cult deep in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.  The present reveals it is two years later, Martha has decided to escape the cult, and shacks up with her sister and brother-in-law in an upscale Connecticut lakeside community.
First time feature writer/director Sean Durkin is a bit manipulative with his script and shot choices.  Frequently, you have to wait a moment or two to figure out if this new scene is in the past or present; it shows early on he is going to play with your mind to make you guess what it is until a character walks on screen.  This mirrors what is supposedly going on in Martha’s head; she is having some major psychological trouble differentiating between her present surroundings and her experiences from the past two years.
It is up to the audience to interpret how Martha wound up in the company of the cult; the film does not show you that.  Also, Martha must be extremely naïve, gullible, or downright accepting of cultish behavior because her assimilation is quite easy.  Sharing beds, clothes, household chores, and each other’s bodies comes quite naturally to her.  Even after a drugging and rape, Martha just shrugs it off as her introduction to the ‘family’.  Through conversations with her sister in the present, you learn mom died young and dad is never mentioned but her early childhood experiences do not sound very much like they were setting young Martha up to be swallowed up by rapist farmers. 
Back to the manipulation.  Both segments, past and present, start very much in serene settings.  The commune Martha joins is very accepting, calm, and the people provide a lot of compliments about her strong character and leadership skills.  The present segment is on a beautiful lake in a gigantic house with supportive relatives.  Then each respective scene adds an unsettling layer until by the end, these troubling and disturbing layers feel crushing.  Events at the commune upset Martha to the point of breaking down and events in the present lake house are all of Martha’s doing because she has brought some extreme paranoia and cascading delusions with her after her escape.
I do not recommend this film.  The director made some creative editing choices and is very effective at building suspense, but that is all it is.  The ability to muster unrelenting suspense and dread is not the only element to make an effective movie.  I became very tired of watching Martha heap abuse and vitriol at her relatives who put up her ridiculous behavior much longer than most people would.  I also grew impatient watching Martha get sucked into a cult through outrageously obvious maneuvers. 
Why is the film world falling in love with Martha?  Almost every critic lauds its suspense and acting, Durkin won Best Director at Sundance, and it was included in the Cannes Un Certain Regard section.  For Elizabeth Olsen, it was a very impressive first role, but I disagree that she has done anything amazing here.  She spends the majority of the movie just looking sheepish around John Hawkes and annoyed at her relatives. 
Break out of the spell Martha Marcy May Marlene is trying to ensnare you in.  Perhaps it is a cult itself and you do not realize how deep you are being manipulated by it until the preposterous and absurd ending. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father CIA Spymaster William Colby (2011)


The only person who would have ever thought about making a film documentary of former CIA Director William Colby must be related to him.  In fact, his son Carl Colby did just that.  William Colby was a driven individual who lived during interesting times and ended up in a fascinating job; however, this does not increase his suitability to carry an entire documentary. 
Intercutting very intriguing historical film vignettes, nostalgic and archived pictures, and one-on-one interviews with some very famous and influential public servants from the last few decades, The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of my Father CIA Spymaster William Colby charts the course of Colby’s life from the attack on Pearl Harbor until his death five decades later.  The main subjects include Colby’s involvement in the earliest form of the Office of Strategic Services, his time in Italy in the 1950s, his back and forth involvement in Vietnam from America’s earliest involvement to its last gasp, and his controversial stint as CIA Director.
The historical film footage dug up and effectively edited is the best part of this documentary.  A lot of this footage is from familiar places we have all seen in documentaries before, but this footage seems new and freshly unearthed.  There are scenes from the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack with lifeless casualties floating in the water, there are scenes of brutal interrogation methods from the Vietnamese jungle, and most compelling, there are scenes where we listen to President Kennedy and his brother discuss overthrowing the South Vietnamese President.  Colby was the CIA station chief in Vietnam from 1959-1962 and knew the players very well there.  The arrival of new Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, his destructive heavy-handedness, and the eventual coup and assassination of President Diem and his brother are shocking to see even in 2011. 
Vietnam and its Phoenix Program would go on to define and represent Colby for the rest of his life.  President Nixon appointed him CIA Director in 1973 after he fired Richard Helms for not helping enough to cover up Watergate.  However, Colby was not a party man.  He would not roll over and play fetch much to the consternation of President Ford.  Ford appreciated loyalty more than anything else which is why Colby was eventually let go.  There is a very telling monologue from Bob Woodward who paraphrases that President Ford told him he valued loyalty as number one which is why Cheney, Rumsfeld, and George Bush Sr. were his go to guys.  There are eerie shadows of the future in 1975 footage of Bush Sr. assuming the job of CIA Director and Cheney and Rumsfeld in the background in certain scenes.
It is not Colby’s fault that most of this documentary is just nice to know, gee-whiz information.  Perhaps if Carl Colby chose to only focus on the Vietnam era issues this film would pack more of a punch.  The up close interviews with people such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Rumsfeld, and Woodward are very telling, but they concern a man who had such a brief stint in the public eye that it is surprising there was not much to uncover in his private life.  Colby was a guy who went to work every day and tried to maintain a steady family life; gentlemen such as this usually do not make for intriguing documentary subjects. 
His family life is explored and there is significant time devoted to his wife who provides information on their social lives while in Italy and Vietnam.  Carl Colby shows he still has some very deep ‘daddy’ issues claiming his father was very distant, did not have any friends, could be cold, etc…  It is hard to say what William Colby would think about this documentary if he were still alive.  He was a very private man who kept his personal business at home so he probably would not appreciate its close examination.  Furthermore, Carl was just a child during most of his father’s CIA clandestine activities so there is a logical answer to the filmmaker’s frequent exclamation that he never really knew who his father was.