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The Final Year (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

The Final Year


Featuring John Kerry, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes, Susan Rice, Jon Finer, Michael Hoza, Rumana Ahmed, Madeleine Albright, Gloria Steinem, Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama.

Directed by Greg Barker.

Distributed by Magnolia Pictures. 90 minutes. Not Rated.

If, like the rest of us, you are getting horribly nostalgic for the days when our country and State Department were respected world leaders and run by smart, competent professionals – way back about a year ago – then The Final Year will make for bittersweet viewing.

After twelve months of watching how the country and government have been roiled and drawn into chaos by the Trump administration, it is kind of nice to settle back into the relatively “no-drama” era of former President Barack Obama and having the diplomatic corps run by John Kerry. Yet watching it will also make you ache – literally ache – for a time when our country was run by grown-ups.

The Final Year has Frontline director Greg Barker playing a fly on the wall in the State Department through 2016. He was given pretty much complete access, and admittedly he is occasionally a little too easy on the career politicians working there, but mostly the film shows a bunch of smart and committed public servants working towards diplomacy.

The film mostly revolves around two diplomatic workers, with two very famous politicians often circling their orbit.

Samantha Powers is the Ambassador to the United Nations, a smart and very empathetic journalist-turned-diplomat who is juggling her very important job with life as a wife and mother. She is constantly trying to avoid catastrophes big and small as she travels from country to country, a shrewd and moral woman who almost sometimes seems like she is herding cats.

Another former writer is Ben Rhodes, former novelist turned Obama Foreign Policy Advisor and speechwriter. Rhodes does not necessarily tread as lightly as Powers in his role, but in most ways he is trying to do the same thing – leave the world in better condition than it was before he took the role.

Former Presidential candidate turned Secretary of State John Kerry also gives filmmaker Barker a great deal of access and a look into the mind and the job of the country’s top diplomat.

And, of course, hovering nearby was President Obama – both formally doing their job and in more candid moments – convincing and cajoling people into doing their best for the world.

The complete backstage access is fascinating and shows several vitally important diplomatic victories (many of which have been undone by the Trump administration) – such as the Iran Treaty and the Paris climate accord.

Even more interesting is the political undercurrent, when the people suddenly realize that they may not have another President who shares their views. The sequence where on election day it slowly, horribly starts to dawn on people that Trump may actually win still packs a gut punch.

A year into a new administration, where the President mockingly calls an unstable foe “little rocket man” and is going out of his way to disenfranchise our traditional allies while cozying up with Vladimir Putin, the savvy, wonkish diplomats of The Final Year seem like a wistful dream.

After his final interview for the film, Obama waves at the camera and says, “All right. See you guys.” It was meant for the camera crew, but it still feels like a farewell to the whole audience. It is also a promise that he (and sanity) will be back. It can’t happen quickly enough.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: January 19, 2018.

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