Movie #38 2021: The Final Year (2017)

Documentary time! (Documentaries are lowkey one of my favourite genres because I’m a slut for non-fiction both in movies and in books. It just so happens that US Politics is also my favourite topic, so what better to watch than something like this?!)

The movie, directed by Greg Barker (Sergio, Manhunt: The Inside Story of the Hunt for Bin Laden), focuses on – you guessed it – the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency. Of course, we all know how it ends, but for the majority of the film, we take a look at the Obama administration’s leading staff members, who take us through what they do day-to-day and how they feel about leaving their jobs come January 2017. What is clear, however, is the extent to which these filmmakers had no idea what was in store, or indeed, the horror story that would follow: the election of a certain ex-reality star and hotel mogul. The Final Year therefore starts in a completely different place to where it began, and goes quickly from optimism and positivity to gloom and disbelief.

I just mentioned that US Politics is a particular interest of mine; it’s what I studied for my Bachelor’s Degree and it’s what I own countless books on. In that regard, it might not be for everyone. The real reason I came to it, however? I’m still trying to find conclusive evidence of that old “Obama is a war criminal” accusation. So far, I have found none. So thought I’d give this a go in the hope that it’d be a little more light-hearted than that.

I’m not saying that Barack Obama is an angel – far from it. For context, the fact that there are some far-leftists who claim he is a war criminal is an extreme grey area. The fact is that civilians being killed in the crossfire of drone strikes does not constitute a war crime unless they were personally and specifically targeted. It’s an extremely unfortunate truth, but I’m afraid that’s part of human rights law and it’s something that people often mistakenly label as a war crime. Reprehensible and unfortunate? Yes. A war crime? No. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.

This documentary actually focuses more on Obama’s staff than the man himself, which I wasn’t aware of before watching, but that’s something I came to like about it. It’s not exactly thrilling if you’re not into the ins and outs of US politics as I’ve already mentioned, but it does lay out the events of the film’s titular year in a very organised manner and brings together a lot of information concisely and in a way that all can understand.

The most surprising thing about it? I came out of it respecting John Kerry more than I ever thought I would. Also, Samantha Power should be the next President. That’s a fact. Both of these people emanate empathy and strength and kindness, and I think you’d probably agree if you decided to take a look at it.

There’s no real argument or side being taken here; what the film does is simply lay out events that happen in real time. Some have labelled it ‘Democrat Propaganda’, but unless this entire thing was staged, I can’t see how that would be true. In that regard, it’s a documentation of occurrences rather than a focused case study of one thing in particular. What ends up happening though is a huge punch in the gut. Specifically, the documentary takes an aforementioned unprecedented turn in the form of a certain Donald, forcing The Final Year to play out like an over-dramatised episode of The West Wing at points. In short, it all ends up in a huge real life plot twist. Sigh.

In terms of documentary filmmaking, it does its job but isn’t anything groundbreaking or out of the ordinary. However, it is still well made for what it is, and I couldn’t help but be unabashedly interested throughout.

Maybe that’s just because I’m a neeeerrrrdddd 🤓 (and what?)

The Final Year is available to stream on Netflix in the UK (but only for another 4 days, so be quick!)

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