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The Unknown Known (2014)



Average Rating: 6.9/10
Reviews Counted: 98
Fresh: 82 | Rotten: 16

Viewers hoping to see Donald Rumsfeld admit making mistakes in public office (or hoping Errol Morris will force him to give straight answers) may find The Unknown Known frustrating -- but no less fascinating.


Average Rating: 7.2/10
Critic Reviews: 32
Fresh: 29 | Rotten: 3

Viewers hoping to see Donald Rumsfeld admit making mistakes in public office (or hoping Errol Morris will force him to give straight answers) may find The Unknown Known frustrating -- but no less fascinating.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.6/5
User Ratings: 4,154

My Rating

Movie Info

Morris' film THE UNKNOWN KNOWN is a gripping exploration of the career and philosophy of former U.S Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Using declassified memos, Morris guides Rumsfeld through a discussion of his controversial career as a high-level executive under four different Republican presidents. Such absorbing topics as Vietnam, the Cold War, Desert Storm and the War on Terror are all examined through the words of one of America's most divisive and complex public figures. (c) Fantastic


Documentary, Special Interest

Errol Morris

Jul 1, 2014


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July 1, 2014:
New on DVD & Blu-Ray: The Unknown Known and more
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April 3, 2014:
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All Critics (98) | Top Critics (32) | Fresh (82) | Rotten (16)

Morris is admirably evenhanded, never demonizing his subject, but giving him enough rope to hang himself. Rumsfeld, cool and bemused, refuses to knot the noose.

April 24, 2014 Full Review Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune
Minneapolis Star Tribune
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[A] scary inquiry.

April 18, 2014 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
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By now the director's technique is so savvy, so confident in its visual layering and atmospheric assurance, even a dodgy, cagey camera subject such as Rumsfeld becomes movieworthy.

April 17, 2014 Full Review Source: Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
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Morris doesn't "break" Rumsfeld, as some think he did McNamara. He has held a mirror up to the man, and found no reflection. The viewer simply has to realize that what's important is what's not there.

April 11, 2014 Full Review Source: Newsday
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What emerges is a fascinating portrait of a bygone approach to power, marked by a seemingly contradictory mix of transparency and obfuscation. Rumsfeld embodies that discrepancy.

April 11, 2014 Full Review Source: Grantland
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A portrait of a wartime leader determined to avoid, at any cost, an honest perspective.

April 10, 2014 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It's about how human beings make horrific mistakes sometimes without ever understanding why ... and without ever once thinking they did.

July 1, 2014 Full Review Source: Deadspin

Part political portrait, part Iraq war post-mortem, part interrogation, it's a fascinating look at a man who -- like it or not -- will go down in history.

July 1, 2014 Full Review Source: Times-Picayune

This documentary interview with Bush-era insider Donald Rumsfeld is like a horror movie with a calm sociopath at its center.

July 1, 2014 Full Review Source: Flick Filosopher
Flick Filosopher

It is, by definition, nonfiction, but at times suggests a horror movie.

June 30, 2014 Full Review Source: Projection Booth
Projection Booth

Part investigation, part inquisition and all around fascinating experiment into trying to dig underneath a deeply buried stone wall of charismatic defiance.

June 10, 2014 Full Review Source: Matt's Movie Reviews
Matt's Movie Reviews

The Unknown Known doesn't paint Rumsfeld into the Shakespearean archetype that Morris intended; instead he toed the company line. This documentary has Rumsfeld winning on points.

June 5, 2014 Full Review Source: 2UE That Movie Show
2UE That Movie Show

Not even Errol Morris' infamous Interrotron - a camera-rig that gazes right into the subject's freaking soul - can pierce an unyielding Donald Rumsfeld in The Unknown Known.

June 5, 2014 Full Review Source: Quickflix

The Unknown Known is like being stuck in a swamp.

June 3, 2014 Full Review Source: Nonfics

Morris's commentary comes in the form of stunning images ... and a truly beautiful score ... The Unknown Known is revealing, but what it reveals is emptiness.

April 21, 2014 Full Review Source: Film Comment Magazine
Film Comment Magazine

Donald Rumsfeld and Errol Morris live on opposite sides of the screen

April 18, 2014 Full Review Source: Movie Habit
Movie Habit

Morris has questions, Rumsfeld has quibbles, and most of what he gets from the man are those infernal little grins that someone must have told him in his youth were very, very cute. He seems to think that he's impish, a mere scamp.

April 16, 2014 Full Review Source: Newcity

The picture amounts to one grand show of self-incrimination.

April 15, 2014 Full Review Source: amNewYork

"It's really more of a very minor TV broadcast, both because of its lack of substance but also because of its cinematic obviousness."

April 12, 2014 Full Review Source: Cinemonkey

I hoped the film was a front for a citizen's arrest: Donald Rumsfeld shipped off to the Hague. Still, the movie is as insanely entertaining as a Mad Hatter's tea party.

April 11, 2014 Full Review Source: Arts Fuse
Arts Fuse

There is no ... introspection in Rumsfeld - only the same snarky double-talk that he displayed during his tenure in the George W. Bush administration.

April 11, 2014 Full Review Source: Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune

Audience Reviews for The Unknown Known

How on earth did Errol Morris, a respected documentarian who has changed both law and history in his films, convince Donald Rumsfeld, the former United States Secretary of Defense and all round 'questionable' character, to sit for an interview. I have my own views about Rumsfeld, let's just say that anyone closely associated with Nixon and the Bush family isn't on my list of favorite people ever. In the Unknown Known he talks about what governments don't know, mistakes they make (cos, you know, they're only human) and how we really shouldn't worry about it. He laughs and he smiles without one second of though about the damage he's caused the world. Is he evil incarnate or just a complete idiot? Lets just agree on egotistical megalomaniac. A devastating but enthralling interview from Morris that left me slightly gobsmacked and a little more neurotic than normal.
September 3, 2014

Super Reviewer

A feature length interview with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield that (perhaps unfairly, perhaps understandably) turns into a referendum on the Iraqi invasion and the War on Terror. There are no bombshells---Rumsfield is far too savvy to sabotage himself---so this effort only adds a little context for political junkies, while being unlikely to sway anyone's opinion of this enigmatic and powerful man in one direction or another.
April 16, 2014
Greg S

Super Reviewer

An extraordinary documentary about one of the most interesting figures in American politics, The Unknown Known is a fascinating look at former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In the film documentarian Errol Morris conducts an extensive interview with Rumsfeld, covering his work in the Nixon & Ford administrations, the events of 9/11, and the War on Terror. A lot of this is done through Rumsfeld's restorations and explanations of his own extensive memorandums and dictations. And, surprisingly it's not as much of a liberal hit piece as one would expect. Though Morris steers the line of questioning at some points, Rumsfeld is allowed to speak for himself; leaving the audience to decide what to make of him. Refreshing and honest, The Unknown Known is a true documentary that allows its subject to take its own course without subterfuge or agenda.
September 12, 2014
Dann Michalski

Super Reviewer

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