Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (2009)
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Critic Reviews for Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
For those who know the story, Most Dangerous Man puts it in fresh perspective. If you don't, there's probably not a better way to discover it.
For those who lived through the turmoil of Vietnam, and for the generations that have come since, the film is an important document in its own right.
The film is also an exciting cloak-and-dagger thriller.
Ehrlich and Goldsmith carve out their own little place in the canon by focusing on the ethical journey of one man who refused to shrug off his own responsibility for the war and atoned for it with a seismic act of civil disobedience.
It is a skillful, well-made film, although, since Ellsberg is the narrator, it doesn't probe him very deeply. We see his version of himself.
Audience Reviews for Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
Daniel Ellsberg released confidential Pentagon documents that led to a shift in the public's opinion about the Vietnam War. This is most interesting question this film presents: when one chooses to fight injustice, is it best to do so from inside the ranks of an unjust body, or should one buck the system completely, going outside the organization? Many people I've encountered throughout my life have made the first argument, that one does more good inside an organization, attempting to change its operations from the inside out. Ellsberg takes the opposite point because he admits that being a part of the military-industrial complex caused him alter his conception of justice so that he wasn't changing the organization but the organization was changing him. I find that fascinating. The rest of the film chronicles the fallout from Ellsberg releasing the Pentagon Papers and the ensuing legal battles. Ellsberg is the film's narrator, so we don't get to see much about his character except for cherry picked interviews that re-affirm Ellsberg's conception of himself. I would have preferred a most objective take on the subject. Overall, the thematic element is intriguing to me, and the film is a strong chronicle of a tumultuous time.
It explains the release of the Pentagon Papers well and the subsequent trials that occurred as a result, but I don't think we really get to know Ellsberg the man. Since he tells his own story here, it seems filtered. He did a great thing, I get it but you never really get a sense of him as a complex individual.
This documentary is something of a mixed bag. Admittedly, I knew most of the facts surrounding the Pentagon Papers, having read Daniel Ellsberg's autobiography a few years before. While also paced like a fine spy thriller at times, the film also provides an outside perspective, making it relevant in this time of war without end.(Sorry, if I just ruined anybody's buzz.) Recently , Ellsberg has gotten heavily involved in the Wikileaks case. At first, the documentary also succeeds by placing the story of the Pentagon Papers in the context of the American success story in that most analysts saw the Vietnam War in terms of success(by following this company line, they would be promoted by approving bosses), not in lives lost or from a Vietnamese perspective which is how Ellsberg and many other protesters saw it.(Why anybody thought the President of the Ford Motor Company would make a competent Secretary of Defense is beyond me.) In a crisis of conscience, Ellsberg performed an extraoardinary act by leaking the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, risking decades of jail. At which point, the documentary goes even beyond hagiography to beatification as the tone turns towards sanctimonious, attacking Senators Fulbright and McGovern for their more cautious approach in criticizing the war. Also, while it may make sense on the surface that the Pentagon Papers led directly to Watergate, the truth is probably more complex, as Hunter Thompson thought J. Edgar Hoover kicking the bucket in 1972 was also an important link in Nixon's downfall.
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