music friday

revisiting the 9s: no end in sight (charles ferguson, 2007)

[This is the fourteenth in a series that will probably be VERY intermittent, if I remember to post at all. I've long known that while I have given my share of 10-out-of-10 ratings for movies over the years, in almost every case, those movies are fairly old. So I got this idea to go back and revisit movies of relatively recent vintage that I gave a rating of 9, to see if time and perspective convinced me to bump that rating up to 10. Of course, it's always possible I'll drop the rating, but time will tell.]

I first saw No End in Sight in late 2007. At that time, I wrote:

A common thread emerges from all of these witnesses ... Whatever your thoughts on the morality or political efficacy of the war, we might have pulled it off. But the people in charge were arrogant pricks who refused to listen to expert advice because they knew what they wanted to do, and they did it.

Bush is attacked primarily as the hands-off President who let things happen on his watch. The ones who construct the failed scenario (Cheney, Rumsfeld, and later Paul Bremer, to mention three of a very small number) apparently didn't do a single thing right. So whatever "success" might have been possible was never going to happen, thanks to the colossal incompetence of the men (and Condi Rice) in charge.

The film's own success comes by presenting material you think you know from a slightly different angle, which allows you to see things afresh. This is not an anti-war film, or perhaps even an anti-Iraq War film. It is a film that unsparingly documents the endless series of boneheaded decisions that have left Iraq in a state of chaos. It is not a pretty picture, or a pretty film.

Judging (or rather, re-judging) a documentary is affected not just by the artistic work itself, but also by how the situation depicted in the movie might have changed in the ensuing years. The American presence in Iraq has been reduced enough that President Biden was able to announce the end of the combat mission in Iraq (in 2021!) without sounding too evasive. But the main thing you take away from the film isn't anything specific about Iraq policy. Instead, Charles Ferguson shows how incompetent the U.S. was, and nothing I've seen since then makes me think he was wrong in his assessment. (Also, that their incompetence didn't rise from innate stupidity, but more from innate arrogance.) Most of the leaders are still with us (Donald Rumsfeld died a couple of years ago). Perhaps the most interesting continuing story from the film is that of Seth Moulton, a Marine who was one of three U.S. veterans of the war who are interviewed extensively. Moulton entered politics, becoming a member of the House of Representatives in 2015, where he still serves.

I think the film not only holds up, but makes me wonder why I hedged on the ultimate 10/10 rating. That's what it deserves, and probably deserved then, as well. No End in Sight was nominated for an Oscar ... Ferguson's next film, Inside Job, won the Oscar. If this series lasts long enough, I'll eventually re-evaluate Inside Job, too.


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