Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Opens locally Friday, December 16th, 2011
Run Time: 1 hour 44 minutes, Not Rated
Directed by Carl Colby
The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby is quite a mouthful to say but correctly sums up this mystery-based documentary. The filmmaker is the son of the subject, William Colby, who was a government agent and director of the Office of Strategic Services (a pre-cursor to the CIA) in the 1970s. His body washed ashore in 1996 after a solo boat ride, leaving some to yell conspiracy, accident, or even suicide. It’s a personal story that jumps in and out of focus on the man, and sometimes drifts to a larger world picture. The title of the documentary is accurate, and also the issue at the heart of the film…as the son doesn’t shed much light on the circumstances of the father, we don’t gain a ton of insight as to who William Colby really was, or what he stood for.
The film is straight-forward as far as documentaries go. It opens with a capsulized version of his father’s life, and once we learn about the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death, the film takes us back to the beginning. It takes far too long to recount the details of his father’s journey, and becomes a historical documentary that grows slow and tired.
The film has strength however, in the point of view from which it’s told. Many talking heads in the film refer to “your father” when detailing William’s life. Through voice-over narration, Carl talks about the deceit and hurt caused by his father’s distance, both physically and emotionally speaking. The mother (William’s wife) is interviewed as well, revealing that even herself and those closest to him didn’t really know him. The fact that this film was made by a son trying desperately to connect with his father permeates through each frame, giving the story much more personal depth than would be there otherwise.
Still, when the end result doesn’t shed any light on the mystery at hand, it’s hard to justify the journey. As the end credits rolled, I noticed that the cast were listed as “witnesses,” making me think that the film was meant as a session in court, as if a judgment of some kind was needed. If this were a court hearing, this film would be thrown out due to lack of substance. The heart and meaning was there, but no real revelations were exhibited.
For those seeking a conspiracy theory or looking for a political/militaristic history brush-up, you won’t be disappointed. There’s just not much to be gained for the rest of us.
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