peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2010 06 20 TheMostDangerousManInAmerica

The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

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At the Chauvel with Rob at their show-and-tell with one of the writer/directors Judith Ehrlich. I think she was out here for the Sydney Film Festival. It opens more broadly this coming Thursday.

I'd been meaning to see this film since I first heard about it more than a year ago. It is well-constructed and occasionally riveting, with some great selective quoting of Nixon. They could have dropped some of the worn-out war porn though. There is a degree of self-absorption here that is also vaguely troubling, but it is difficult to communicate the nuance of political influence without sliding to extremes.

Much was made during the discussion of the recent hoopla around Wikileaks and its founder Assange, and also the similarly-recent legislation in Iceland to protect whistle blowers. There seems to be little to learn from this film about connecting to the general population in ways that might change policies; Ellsberg's big impact was to get the Watergate investigation started, which was also a fortunate accident for him as it allowed the court to dismiss the charges arising from his leaking the Pentagon Papers. As always with technicians, he failed to understand how little the people care about details and proof.

Ellsberg is very similar here to what he was in Hearts and Minds, which is perhaps unsurprising as his life has been in some kind of stasis since 1971. (Ehrlich stated this quite flatly.)

I wonder if Ellsberg's book Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers is worth reading.