The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby Reviews

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February 20, 2016
An interesting peak into how the CIA works, with some fairly damning photos and audio clips from around the world to inside the oval office. I kind of wish Carl Colby had given a more personal take on the subject; the movie feels really more like a bunch of facts laid out with the focus really more on what happened in Vietnam than his father. I would have liked more anecdotes about his home and family life, or his life after the CIA or just anything more in depth about his sister or mother. Though maybe I'm asking too much of a movie called "the man nobody knew."
September 1, 2014
Fascinating, controversial film about former CIA Dir. William Colby. He was a "company man" and served in various capacities in Vietnam prior to becoming Director. The film is directed by his son who is clearly ambivalent about his father. A lot of famous faces from that era are interviewed, with a lot of behind-the-scenes info. History buffs will love this.
June 8, 2014
I teach writing and my freshman students will read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, the story of a Hmong child who suffers from epilepsy, as did Colby's daughter. The connection between that book and this documentary is not epilepsy but what each reveals about how rotten things are in this state, the US. Carl Colby created a portrait of great delicacy that is as much -- perhaps, more -- about his mother and the nature of both the CIA and the government in the second half of the 20th C as it is about his father. In fact, despite the nearly two hours running time, we are less aware of who William Egan Colby was than we are of who his wife was. Whether director Carl purposefully lit the set and controlled his mother's make-up or whether her fading at the end of the film was due to taking her testimony in a single shot is a question I would ask Carl Colby. For me, the true cost of being married to a "spymaster" showed in Barbara's face and her grooming. At the beginning of the film, she appears as a handsome and well-groomed older woman, typical of educated women of her generation. She is dressed in an expensive brown suit, with perhaps a paisley pattern, with a yellowish blouse sometimes peeping from the neckline. Her face is calm and poised, colored only by delicate, pink lipstick. The audience hears that she put her husband through law school. The audience hears that her husband's colleagues consider her the source of his success. The son describes them as a team. During her final appearance, her face seems heavier, the lines more obvious. The delicate lavender-pink lipstick is almost gone, leaving her mouth crumbled in appearance. Through her faded lipstick, she announces how, after nearly 40 years of marriage, William Colby asked for a divorce. Whether this brilliant symbolism was planned or accidental, the faded makeup of the loyal wife reveals how little anyone knew of this man who could smile on cue and testify before Congress (at a time when Congress was a strong and active participant in government) and say nothing.
May 9, 2014
Incredible story, and history. However, I saw it when Carl presented at the old Lumiere in SF, and his in-person hour-long discussion/commentary afterward really filled in the gaps. There is context that cannot really be translated on screen. Still, a very worthwhile documentary.
March 26, 2014
Informative look into the CIA and a former director's life. The congressional hearings were unprecedented and in the wake of nixon's resignation must have been especially trying for bill Colby and the nation. His sudden divorce and alter death only added to the mystery.
½ November 4, 2012
The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father CIA Spymaster William Colby

William Colby was an effective soldier/spy/spook who defined counter-insurgency before it was a word. The ability to enter a conflict not as a combatant but learn about people, their culture and use that understanding to affect change through whatever means necessary.

Cast as a man of great intrigue, determination and an Achilles heel of a willingness to serve morally ambivalent men, this is not as engaging as Mcnamara‚(TM)s autobiography, this focuses on critical decision making. Colby‚(TM)s son takes you through the start if the Vietnam war through the Nixon and the near collapse of the CIA in the post Nixon years.

Much of the movie are defining decision in historical events and how the leaders choose poorly or were indecisive, which proves to be the worse choice. Most memorable is a tape recording of President Kennedy and his brother discuss overthrowing the South Vietnamese President. Colby was the CIA station chief in Vietnam from 1959-1962 and knew the players very well there. The arrival of new Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, his lack of grasp of the region, and the eventual coup and assassination of President Diem and his brother.

A lawyer drawn into the adventure and intrigue and danger joins the OSS during WWII. His first of many projects is organizing, training and supplying the Norwegian underground resist the German forces.More interesting is the counter-play between the two initiatives in Vietnam. In critical villages before the war CIA and OSS (Special forces) operative worked with Diem to to help and train village on the North Vietnam border fortify and train to resist insurgence from VC. It was effective but did not fit the model of the General who had cut their teeth in WWII.

Later in the failing war Colby organized infamous operation Phoenix where ex-VC soldiers were turned to fight for the south with a highly effective kill rate of 63:1. An expected, but unwanted side-effect is the Ex-VC soldiers used their position of power to settle old scores.

independent of your political views it is definitely worth a watch on Netflix instant. One who does not study history is bound to repeat it.

BC 11-04-12
½ September 10, 2012
A career retrospective of former CIA director William Colby, who stepped in to bite the bullet when congress smelled blood following Watergate and the Vietnam War. Left with nothing more than photos and questions in the wake of his father's mysterious disappearance on an early-morning canoe ride, Colby's filmmaker son doesn't seem to have any alternative but to seek his answers in the past. The result is a startlingly open, sweeping glimpse at the CIA's involvement in Cold War politics and the Kennedy / Nixon regimes. At times it's very dry, but the narrative is constantly loaded with historical nuggets from the men who lived it - like the kind of programming we could expect from the History Channel before it turned into whatever it is now. It's strange that, as the scale increases, Colby almost becomes an afterthought in his own story, but the film certainly tells a better story because of it. Bittersweet, insightful and informative, if too reliant on talking heads and Ken Burns photo zooms.
½ August 7, 2012
A bit of a mixed bag, but tons of interesting perspectives.
May 16, 2012
Very interesting film. While it is no longer out in theaters it is definitely worth adding to your movies to watch via Netflix.
½ January 9, 2012
Malisima super aburrida lenta
November 8, 2011
Any biography on film about someone whose own son produces and narrates the story is bound to be subjective. However, Carl Colby does a remarkable job in describing his late father, once CIA director, in fairly objective terms a he saw him. He asks more questions than he answers. As someone who corresponded with Colby as a boy, I left the movie seeing him as I did even then: a highly moral man who bridges the divide between American idealism and practicality in a very dangerous world. As the movie suggests, had we followed his lead in Vietnam, things would have turned out differently-- but politics got in the way. I must admit that his approach-- connecting with the locals-- as we have strived to do in Iraq and Afghanistan-- and focusing on a counterinsurgency-- that's how we can better manage engagements of this type. Wonderful story about a fascinating American.
½ November 1, 2011
The only person who would have ever thought about making a film documentary of former CIA Director William Colby must be related to him. In fact, his son Carl Colby did just that. William Colby was a driven individual who lived during interesting times and ended up in a fascinating job; however, this does not increase his suitability to carry an entire documentary.

Intercutting very intriguing historical film vignettes, nostalgic and archived pictures, and one-on-one interviews with some very famous and influential public servants from the last few decades, The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of my Father CIA Spymaster William Colby charts the course of Colby's life from the attack on Pearl Harbor until his death five decades later. The main subjects include Colby's involvement in the earliest form of the Office of Strategic Services, his time in Italy in the 1950s, his back and forth involvement in Vietnam from America's earliest involvement to its last gasp, and his controversial stint as CIA Director.

The historical film footage dug up and effectively edited is the best part of this documentary. A lot of this footage is from familiar places we have all seen in documentaries before, but this footage seems new and freshly unearthed. There are scenes from the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack with lifeless casualties floating in the water, there are scenes of brutal interrogation methods from the Vietnamese jungle, and most compelling, there are scenes where we listen to President Kennedy and his brother discuss overthrowing the South Vietnamese President. Colby was the CIA station chief in Vietnam from 1959-1962 and knew the players very well there. The arrival of new Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, his destructive heavy-handedness, and the eventual coup and assassination of President Diem and his brother are shocking to see even in 2011.

Vietnam and its Phoenix Program would go on to define and represent Colby for the rest of his life. President Nixon appointed him CIA Director in 1973 after he fired Richard Helms for not helping enough to cover up Watergate. However, Colby was not a party man. He would not roll over and play fetch much to the consternation of President Ford. Ford appreciated loyalty more than anything else which is why Colby was eventually let go. There is a very telling monologue from Bob Woodward who paraphrases that President Ford told him he valued loyalty as number one which is why Cheney, Rumsfeld, and George Bush Sr. were his go to guys. There are eerie shadows of the future in 1975 footage of Bush Sr. assuming the job of CIA Director and Cheney and Rumsfeld in the background in certain scenes.

It is not Colby's fault that most of this documentary is just nice to know, gee-whiz information. Perhaps if Carl Colby chose to only focus on the Vietnam era issues this film would pack more of a punch. The up close interviews with people such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Rumsfeld, and Woodward are very telling, but they concern a man who had such a brief stint in the public eye that it is surprising there was not much to uncover in his private life. Colby was a guy who went to work every day and tried to maintain a steady family life; gentlemen such as this usually do not make for intriguing documentary subjects.

His family life is explored and there is significant time devoted to his wife who provides information on their social lives while in Italy and Vietnam. Carl Colby shows he still has some very deep 'daddy' issues claiming his father was very distant, did not have any friends, could be cold, etc... It is hard to say what William Colby would think about this documentary if he were still alive. He was a very private man who kept his personal business at home so he probably would not appreciate its close examination. Furthermore, Carl was just a child during most of his father's CIA clandestine activities so there is a logical answer to the filmmaker's frequent exclamation that he never really knew who his father was.
October 16, 2011
This is an excellent documentary!
Super Reviewer
October 16, 2011
To be honest, "The Man Nobody Knew" is not the quite the documentary I was expecting. While this is not entirely a bad thing(there is some great use of rare archival material), it is still a shame that Carl Colby pretty much just works around the margins in trying to get to know who his father, William Colby, former head of the CIA, really was. Such secretiveness was not just due to his father's occupation but his generation when it was not required of a father to be friends with his son or for a man to reveal his feelings or weaknesses. Also of that generation were preconceptions of the Cold War that led to Communist defeat in Italy after World War II but not in Vietnam. While William Colby and family were getting to know President Diem in Saigon, a nationalist struggle was taking root in the countryside.(Not mentioned are canceled elections mandated by the Geneva Accords to unite the country.) So while there is plenty of testimony in favor of the security of the Strategic Hamlet program, nobody mentions that this also cut off the peasants from their land. The Phoenix Program quickly got out of hand, angering the next generation to find out what has been carried out in their name. So William Colby takes the heat in front of Congress and is fired from the CIA while Nelson Rockefeller, Donald Rumsfeld, and Henry Kissinger, a true Axis of Evil, are left in power.
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