Stuff Happens: Errol Morris' Unknown Known

Donald Rumsfeld, for no apparent reason, agreed to allow Fog of War documentarian Errol Morris to interview him. Was it to assure his legacy? We may never know. When the filmmaker asks him that very question after a long evasive interview in the new film Unknown Known opening this week, he evades even that, replying, "That's a vicious question. Damned if I know."

Entertaining in its frustrations, an abject history lesson, the film limns the well- documented, eh known, record on misconduct at Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo. Fudging his answers throughout, Rumsfeld comes across as a wise fool who somehow managed to be in key places of decision-making. "All generalities are false," he says, "even this one." Errol Morris allows the camera to linger on his excrement-eating grin; while we suspect we know something about his guarded secrets, he's not telling, or spinning information a different way. Revealing him a master with words, obfuscating at will, this portrait of a singular individual who served under several presidents is whimsical, following the "snowflakes" as Rumsfeld's ephemeral paper trail is called.

At dinner at Circo after a special screening introduced by Tom Brokaw, Errol Morris was all gesture and grimace when asked why he did not push his subject farther as he had done with Robert McNamara on the Vietnam War. "McNamara had nothing to apologize for regarding that nightmare," Morris quotes Rumsfeld. "Some things work out. That didn't." A room full of media mavens, Ken Auletta, Candice Bergen, Greg Kelly, Commissioner Ray Kelly, Keri Kennedy, Bob Simon, Gay and Nan Talese among them, was abuzz questioning Morris' interview strategy, a reaction many will have to this film's fascinations.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.