With the great­est ret­ro­spect…

In a new doc­u­men­tary, Pres­i­dent Obama’s last few months in of­fice take dra­matic turns — as well we know

Esquire (UK) - - Culture -

Dra­matic irony is de­fined as that which arises when the au­di­ence of a play knows more about the cir­cum­stances of the char­ac­ters than the char­ac­ters them­selves. For ex­am­ple, Oedi­pus doesn’t know his girl­friend is also his mum, but we do. It’s that kind of irony you see in Greg Barker’s new doc­u­men­tary, The Fi­nal

Year, as you watch Ben Rhodes, Pres­i­dent Obama’s Deputy Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor, an­swer­ing a woman in a café in Laos who asks him if he will work with the next pres­i­dent.

“I don’t think so,” he be­gins. “I know Hil­lary Clin­ton and her team very well. I could do some­thing…” She in­ter­rupts him. “So you’re say­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton will be se­lected? Not Don­ald Trump?” “No,” he replies. Some­one out of shot asks him if he’s sure. “I’m sure,” he says, with a slow blink and a smile.

Barker, whose pre­vi­ous doc­u­men­taries in­clude 2013’s Man­hunt: The In­side Story of the Hunt for Bin Laden, no doubt thought he would be mak­ing a very dif­fer­ent kind of film. With il­lu­mi­nat­ing, al­beit lim­ited, ac­cess, it fol­lows some of Obama’s key staffers — Rhodes, Am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions Sa­man­tha Power and Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry — as they travel the world con­struct­ing a stately sign-off for their boss to ce­ment the legacy of a pres­i­dent who could, by his sup­port­ers, be con­sid­ered to have done a good job. There’s the Iran nu­clear deal, at­tempts at a ne­go­ti­ated peace in Syria, plus steps to com­bat Boko Haram in Africa, and con­fronting cli­mate change.

The film most ef­fec­tively hu­man­ises or­di­nary peo­ple in ex­tra­or­di­nary roles, par­tic­u­larly Power and Rhodes, as well as giv­ing some lit­eral glimpses of life at the White House — the West Wing, it turns out, is a bit shabby — though don’t ex­pect lots of in­ti­mate sit-downs with Obama him­self as Barker clearly didn’t get much on that front. Any­one ex­pect­ing an ex­posé of dark-deal­ing Democrats will also be dis­ap­pointed; there are times when the staffers seem too saintly and self-com­posed to be true, though when Rhodes hears the Rus­sians have bombed an aid con­voy near Aleppo, he fi­nally lets rip: “This is fuck­ing sick, even by their stan­dards.”

But as they work, there’s Trump, loom­ing like a croc­o­dile eye­ing a string of sausages, and it’s all you can do not to shout at the screen, “He’s be­hind you!” When he de­liv­ers the killer elec­tion blow, the last months of the Obama Gov­ern­ment, and the hastily re­vised fo­cus of the film, be­come not a vic­tory lap, but a des­per­ate scrab­ble to se­cure some­thing, any­thing, be­fore the new ad­min­is­tra­tion starts un­do­ing it all.

— The Fi­nal Year is out on 19 Jan­uary

The last pe­riod of Barack Obama’s US pres­i­den­tial term is played out in The Fi­nal Year

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