Film Review – The Final Year

The Final Year

The Final Year

A look at the Obama foreign policy group’s final year where we are given glimpses of what the stress and details of their work entails, The Final Year doesn’t truly get into the nitty-gritty ideas or let us know the subjects in detail. The top individuals we follow are Secretary of State John Kerry, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, Deputy National Security Ben Rhodes plus a few moments with National Security Adviser Susan Rice and President Barack Obama. Through these people we see some of the major events they try to navigate, including Syria, the Boko Haram abduction of girls, global warming, Iran and many other issues.

Because of the nature of the film’s scope there are trade-offs, because we take in so many people and issues we never get a full in-depth look at what is going on. Yet what we do get is how complex being involved in these high pressure jobs is and how you cannot devote yourself to just one thing because everything is happening at the same time with no break. Another problem is that when we first interact with these figures they state what they want to do in a way that it feels like what any political figure would say to a reporter. Yet as the film goes on the trust these people have in director Greg Barker allows them to begin to open up. We start to see touches of where there are disagreements between them. Samantha Power shows a lot more empathy while Ben Rhodes appears pragmatic. We know there are fights and real differences of opinions and that there are no easy answers. A nice touch is seeing these people as human beings, in little things such as Rhodes getting his bag stuck getting into a van, Kerry forgetting his phone, and Power having very mom-like moments with her kids. It creates a sense that, despite their intelligence and dedication, these are human beings

Final Year Movie Still 1

This film is a weird dichotomy of a peek behind-the-scenes of what happens while not giving many details of what is actually happening. It is at once a great way to see the human reactions and not enough because there is so much to cover and so many people at different moments. Skipping months at a time between these events makes sense because diplomacy takes a long time to get to the big moments, but there is then something lacking. Yet we do get these great scenes like Kerry taking Russia to task over an attack in Syria, putting them in their place by blatantly putting out the facts and making their ambassador shift in his seat. But when Kerry mentions having to go talk to them afterward about another issue, it’s a weird truth that makes for compelling viewing.

Final Year Movie Still 2

One thing that hangs over the film is the comments about Trump and this group’s fears and disbelief about what he says and what it will mean for their work. We the audience know the result of the election, which feels like a sword is hanging over their heads ending with everything they are doing being undone. The complaints about Russia’s actions with Syria and the Crimea also add a level of knowing that there is worse to come between Russia and the United States. The election does happen and the debate about what it means for their work and what they think will happen is at once depressing but not without hope, especially in a great speech from President Obama that doesn’t ignore the realities of what has happened but shows that things are not doomed.

This is both fascinating and frustrating. It makes you want to know more, especially if this kind of government behind-the-scenes details interest you. You love the bits you get and yet you keep hoping for more from the film. The good news is that it does inspire you to want to learn more but you wonder why you couldn’t get more from the film itself. In the end it is a film that doesn’t fulfill all that it promises but gives just enough to make it worth watching.




Benjamin is a film connoisseur and Oscar watcher who lives in Minneapolis and, when not reviewing movies, works at the Hennepin County Library.

You can reach Benjamin via email or on twitter

View all posts by this author