The Final Year
STARRING: John Kerry, Barack Obama, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes
DIRECTOR: Greg Barker
A fly-on-the-wall documentary chronicling the final year of Former President Barack Obama’s time in office as seen through his senior foreign policy staff – including John Kerry, Samantha Powers, Ben Rhodes, and the occasional swoop-through visit by Obama himself, whose camera confessionals are about as substantial and revealing as a DJ Khaled quote – The Final Year seems to falsely believe that its intimate access to Obama’s team is enough of a point on its own to carry a full 90 minute documentary. Or maybe the problem is actually the fact that it’s only 90 minutes long? A lot happened in Obama’s final year whilst domestic politics was going to complete shit – the Paris Accords, the Iran nuclear deal, ending trade sanctions on Cuba, the attempted Syria ceasefire, Presidential trips to Vietnam and Hiroshima, among others – but the structure and length of The Final Year means that we’re on nothing more than a whistle-stop tour of these issues. Five minutes here at the UN, and then we’re off to meet the mothers of the daughters kidnapped by Boko-Haram, and then we’re off to Laos, and so on.
All the while, Trump continues to rise in the background. Whilst in Vietnam, Ben speaks to both the President of the nation and a random ex-pat who are concerned about the possibility of President Trump, having paid attention to the Brexit vote earlier that month, and he laughs off the entire notion. One could maybe infer a larger point being made here – about how these people who are flying everywhere, earnestly trying to change the world, and really do believe in what they are doing, are actually totally oblivious to that world around them, so shrink-wrapped in their own bubble – but The Final Year is in reality just preaching to the choir.
Everybody is far too guarded and “on” to provide any read on them that doesn’t make them come off as saintly, which is what makes it such a relief when Ben’s New York Times profile where he claims that journalists “know nothing” comes out, it’s incredibly fawning of Obama and unquestioning in his role as a beacon of great change, and its finale again pivots to that old falsehood that the current generation will save us all and all the old racists will die off.
It’s nothing less than watchable, but I should note that it ends with a montage of people clearing out their stuff to a gospel choir rendition of “The Times They Are A-Changing.” It should be a bitterly ironic kiss-off, but it means nothing, much like the rest of the film.