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The Most Dangerous Man In America: Daniel Ellsberg And The Pentagon Papers
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Reviewed on 2010-05-01
RatedNot Rated
Received[3.5]  out of 4 stars
This Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature makes a hero out of a high-level Pentagon policy analyst for stealing a top-secret government study and turning it over to The New York Times and other major daily newspapers.

The title stems from the moniker given Daniel Ellsberg by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger when this breach of security took place during the Nixon administration. He said this fellow “had to be stopped at all costs.”

Ellsberg, who narrates this nonfiction film, was guided by his moral conscience to expose a pattern of presidential lies by Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy and continuing with the escalated military involvement in the Vietnam War by Johnson and Nixon.

These classified papers revealed that we were not going to win and could not beat an enemy unwilling to give up the fight in their own backyard. The study further indicated that our country stayed the course merely to save face while millions died and America was torn apart with protests and demonstrations.

Much research went into compiling the archival black and white news footage and photos along with audio from the Nixon White House tapes. This compelling film from directors Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith takes a cloak-and-dagger approach and is full of landmark historical events including Richard Nixon’s resignation from office on Aug. 8, 1974, to avoid probable impeachment. Nixon’s remarks recorded on tape are priceless and make him come across as a comical buffoon.

Ellsberg explains how he changed from a hawk to a dove and risked going to prison for the rest of his life for violating the Espionage Act. A landmark Supreme Court decision upheld the First Amendment rights involving free speech and freedom of the press against government censorship.

This 94-minute film covers a lot of ground and is based in part on Ellsberg’s 2002 book “Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.” The film is dedicated to the memory of Anthony Russo, a think tank co-worker at the Rand Corporation, who encouraged Ellsberg to photocopy the 7,000 pages in the first place and reveal them to members of Congress opposing the war.

The talking heads interviewed include: White House counsel John Dean; White House aide Bud Krogh, selected to head up the “plumber’s” unit that broke into the Los Angeles office of Ellsberg’s shrink; and Ellsberg’s second wife Patricia, an anti-war activist.

Ellsberg comes across not only as a brilliant scholar, but also quite personable, with scenes playing the piano and performing sleight-of-hand tricks as an amateur magician. He continues today as an advocate against war and for social justice.

This exceptional documentary won the 2009 Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board of Review. It should be required viewing for high school history classes. Opening exclusively for a limited engagement at the Tivoli in Westport.

Review By:
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"


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