This documentary about the foreign policy in the last year of the Obama Presidency reveals a lot about that administration and the country as a whole. It was a time when China, Syria, Cuba, the Paris Climate Accords were all at major stages. The film focuses on four, prominent and powerful players in those historical moments: Samantha Power; Ben Rhodes; John Kerry; and President Obama.
It doesn’t take but a few minutes into the film to realize why the Trump administration has failed so miserably on foreign policy. The people in this film were working 24/7, knew the life-death stakes of their decisions, and strove to make the moral and best choices for the country as deemed best by results in the long-run. All things the Trump administration never does. Change doesn’t happen by itself. You have to work at it.
I was caught up - as I always am by her - in Samantha Power’s genuine concern for the people in the countries she was trying to help. Whether it be visiting parents of the victims of Boco Haram, speaking at an immigrant swearing-in ceremony, or challenging Russia in the U.N., her passion was always on display. I’m a huge fan of hers and find her inspirational. Although, for some reason, I didn’t know until this film that she was a migrant from Ireland.
Ben Rhodes hit home some good points in this movie. I think one of the best ones was when he was in a conference room after talks with the Chinese and he spoke about all the issues and things the administration had done, and then pointed out how the U.S. press covered almost none of it, being more focused on Trump’s twitter feed instead. This is how - in large part - we’ve gotten us in the unholy mess we are in now.
I was also struck by his interactions in Laos, Vietnam, and the trip to Hiroshima where the President made a speech. Avoiding war and the cost of war is a constant theme when these people are talking. And no one touched on that subject more forcefully than John Kerry.
Whatever your views on Kerry, he will no doubt go down in history as probably the hardest working Secretary of State this country has had up until now. While his successors had to call off meetings for nap times, Kerry was on the go 24/7, handling several issues at once. I think the movie said that during the week of the U.N. General Assembly he had 70 meetings with representatives from other countries. Let that sink in for a moment.
The movie was great at showing how labor intensive these jobs can be but I thought it fell short because it never let you follow the progress - good or bad - on any particular issue. Now that may be due to security reasons, I don’t know. But it leaves a void in the story arc that, if dealt with, would have turned this movie from good to great.
The Final Year is interesting and and well made. Even with the flaw I mentioned, I still give this a 4 of 5 on the rating scale. It was depressing in the sense that in watching this, you realize how far this country has fallen in the last couple years. On the other hand, the people in this movie do give you hope that the future can be rescued.