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The picture takes the form of a long interview with the former Kennedy- and Johnson-era defense secretary. There is terrific historical footage that should please anyone worried that the film is one giant talkathon. Director Morris, a perfect combination of smart journalist and creative artist, expertly matches footage to the words for stellar illumination and strong impact. His sharp take on the material is supported by a solid score by composer Philip Glass. This is a movie about the relentless nature of war, and the desire for something better.

McNamara, a former executive for the Ford Motor Company, never lets the soul-searching overwhelm his take on some of the most incredible moments in history. There are utterly fascinating points made about John F. Kennedy and the Cuban Missile crisis, but just as fascinating is his take on events during the Spring of 1945. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians were killed and cities destroyed by firestorms caused by a massive American bombing campaign months before atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. McNamara was an analyst for the Air Force during World War II and part of the team, under the command of Curtis LeMay, which implemented this strategy.

But, it’s McNamara’s role in the rise of the American presence in Vietnam that is the core of the movie. Aged 85 at the time of filming, he is passionate about his ideas and eager to communicate them, and that helps the movie grab you and keep you interested. He has thought long and hard about his years in government, and he follows his own set of principles regarding ethics and service to one’s country. There’s a real sense that this man has some wisdom to impart and deserves a hearing. Though Vietnam came to be known as “McNamara’s War,” he contends that he was not eager to enter the conflict and did his best to get the United States out of it. Director Morris backs up these recollections with declassified White House tapes. You repeatedly hear McNamara advising caution and delivering pessimistic comments about what was happening or might happen in Southeast Asia. Time after time, President Lyndon Johnson ignores or overrules him.

McNamara considered leaving the administration, but he stayed. You watch the movie watching a man come to terms with his decision. The rest is history and a terrific documentary. Thanks to The Fog Of War, we have a better understanding of what goes on in the White House when America’s leaders chose the path to battle. In addition to Morris’ movie, you might also want to go see Oscar’s Best Foreign Language winner. The Barbarian Invasions is from Canada; it’s in French, and it’s a superb, sharp-witted film in which friends gather around a dying academic who wants to examine his life. Many of these same characters were seen in director Deny Arcand’s The Decline Of American Empire (from 1986). Not winners, but nominees are The Triplets Of Belleville and Girl With A Pearl Earring, both worth your time. The former is a delightfully quirky, jazzy animated work from France and the latter is a breath of subtlety and luminous cinematography in a world gone garish and mad. 21 Grams, a drama about disconnected lives, offers great performances from acting nominees Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro as well as a truly great performance from Sean Penn, who won his first Best Acting Academy Award for his role in Mystic River, also playing. The magnificent Lost In Translation, Best Screenplay winner for its director Sofia Coppola, continues to roll along.

Newcomers on the block are a turgid big screen version of the television series Starsky And Hutch. Ben Stiller is the dark-haired one and Owen Wilson is the blond-haired one. The unfunny buddy-cop film throws an odd gay (as in homosexual) spin into the proceedings because without jokes at the expense of someone being gay – or perhaps possibly being gay, there’s no movie at all. Isn’t that the definition of homophobia, laughs at the expense of a group of people? You bet it is, no matter how open-minded those connected with this silliness think they are in real-life. Hidalgo uses what looks like special effects from those Brendan Fraser mummy movies and seems a bit Indiana Jonesesque. Set in the 1890s, this is the story of a Pony Express rider (the always solid Viggo Mortensen) who travels to the Arabian peninsula to compete with his horse, Hidalgo, in a risk-filled race for what in the 19th-century was considered a lot of money. This is an old-fashioned family-style adventure that runs on too long (almost two and ¼ hours), but does deliver enough entertainment to succeed.

How many times can the moderately talented Ashley Judd make the same movie? Well, with Twisted, it seems ad nauseum. This is a yet another failed thriller, only this time Judd’s a hard-drinking, sexually active homicide cop who might be killing her beaus. Fat chance. Also failed is Against The Ropes in which a weird-looking Meg Ryan plays real-life boxing promoter Jackie Kallen. The movie is one of those gals in a guy’s world efforts that were a staple of 1930s and 1940s Hollywood. This one lacks any modicum of drama and Ryan’s face seems oddly plastic. Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights offers frisky music and a contemporary idea of pre-Castro Cuba. This fish out of water tale – a young woman accompanies her American businessman father to Havana and learns about shakin’ her hips, is not very engaging or sexy. Any comparison to the popular original Dirty Dancing from 1987 is purely mathematical. Welcome To Mooseport, a weak comedy about a former President of the U.S. (Gene Hackman) running for mayor of a small village, wastes the talents of everyone involved.

By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor

Errol Morris’ The Fog Of War won the Oscar for Best Documentary at last week’s Academy Award ceremony. The engrossing film has as its subject, former Secretary Of Defense Robert McNamara, and offers insights about issues in which he was involved, especially his link to the Vietnam War. The complete title of the movie is The Fog Of War: Eleven Lessons From The Life of Robert S. McNamara.