Trials of Henry Kissinger (***1/2)

(2002) dir Eugene Jarecki – starring Brian Cox as the Narrator and Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hitchens, Seymour Hersch, William Safire, and a bunch of other people as themselves.

Synopsis: Henry Kissinger: wise elder statesman, or war criminal? Or both? These are the basic questions of this documentary, which combines interviews with historical footage, declassified gov’t documents, etc., to present a case for Henry Kissinger as, well, as a war criminal.

Review: ‘Trials’ offers interviews of an interesting assortment of writers and political figures, running the gamut of the political spectrum from right to left and back again. While every possible point of view is not presented, it’s actually amazing how cohesive a picture Jarecki is able to present with what you’d otherwise assume to be quite disparate views. The film reviews various incidents—from the Vietnam war to a U.S.-backed coup in Chile—in presenting Kissinger’s various involvements in questionable affairs. It offers the examples of various figures, most notably Pinochet, in claiming that Kissinger should be brought to task (ideally to trial) for his actions. It’s captivating and informative and interesting, but there’s something missing from it. For starters, it offers up a veritable laundry-list of atrocities (accompanied by top-secret documents, historical footage, and interviews with people who were involved at the time) that incites the audience to outrage, but doesn’t provide an outlet; it’s more than simply an informative video, but less than a constructive opportunity. And while not every documentary should be expected to provide something for the audience to do, in a documentary where outrage seems to be the goal, inaction is vastly unsatisfying. Also, ‘Trials’ isn’t as direct as it could be (the first sentence of this review notwithstanding); towards the end of the movie, it loses some of its steam, its message becoming bloated and muddled. Put another way, ‘Trials’ presents a clear picture of Henry Kissinger as someone who basically sacrificed lives for political gain, but then loses track of itself and isn’t exactly sure about what should be done about it, much less what can be done about it. In the end, ‘Trials of Henry Kissinger’ remains a pretty solid historical film and covers some interesting points, even if it does suffer in making the transition from past to present.

Rating: [•••½] out of [•••••]