The Trials of Henry Kissinger Review
By Matt Langdon on Tuesday 1st November 2005
Where were you when our military secretly carpet bombed Cambodia in 1969? Or in 1970 when a coup was being arranged to overthrow president elect Salvador Allende in Chile? Or in 1975 when the Indonesian army invaded East Timor and killed more than 100,000 civilians? Chances are you were ensconced in your home somewhere far from danger totally unaware that such horrors were taking place. But if you were Henry Kissinger you couldn't claim such honorable innocence even though years later you would try. In a roundabout way this is what the documentary The Trials of Henry Kissinger, by Alex Gibney and Eugene Jarecki, is about. It attempts to sort out all the evidence that has surfaced in the past 20 years concerning the questionable and possibly nefarious political actions of Henry Kissinger who served as U.S. National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford between 1969 and 1977. Kissinger - who grew up in and escaped Nazi Germany - has been one of the most well-known, charismatic, and respected statesmen in the world since he rose to prominence under the much troubled Nixon administration. Somehow, though, he came out unscathed and even managed, ironically, to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Nevertheless, over the past decade skeptics have begun to surface. Most notably, journalist Seymour Hirsh as well as respected military leader General Telford Taylor both have made claims -- through interviews and books -- that Kissinger "may have needlessly sacrificed human lives to achieve strategic goals." Specifically in 1969 when he and Nixon allegedly sabotaged the Paris Peace talks - which could have ended the war in Vietnam - simply because they wanted to buy time before the U.S. elections. All of these activities were mere rumors until two years ago when journalist Christopher Hitchens' wrote a book titled The Trial of Henry Kissinger, which caused a big stir in the political world. Kissinger and his cronies denounced it but refused to press charges - presumably because they would then have to disprove the work of Hitchens (and many others), who used the Freedom of Information Act and actual government documents to not only discredit Kissinger's reputation but prove that he knew very well the deeds he helped orchestrate. This documentary isn't as damning as Hitchens' book - there is some humor from Kissinger (which isn't really too funny) and some from Alexander Haig - who defends Kissinger's actions and calls Hitchens a "sewer-pipe-sucker" - as well as neutral comments by the likes of Kissinger biographer Walter Isaacson and military officer Brent Scowcroft. But there is still a lot of convincing evidence that Kissinger qualifies as one cold, calculating, Machiavellian S.O.B. And more importantly it raises the question of accountability for world leaders - many of whom seem to escape such responsibility.
However, regarding actual legal action against Kissinger the film isn't convincing beyond a reasonable doubt mainly because there are so many other men (especially Nixon) who could equally take the blame. But unlike Hitchens' book it isn't full of contempt for its subject nor does it have the feeling of a smoking gun conspiracy. The evidence is presented straightforwardly and best of all there are numerous interviews by the likes of the aforementioned Hitchens and Hirsch as well as New York Times writes Elizabeth Becker and William Safire who have studied Kissinger's actions closely. There are also interviews by a good number who worked alongside Kissinger in those years - many of whom were wiretapped by Kissinger in the 1970s.
There is so much packed into the 80-minute running time of The Trials of Henry Kissinger that even if you know the litany of accusations, misdeeds and corruptions of the Nixon White House and Mr. Kissinger it's hard to keep all the facts straight. You may feel compelled to watch the film twice or pick up a book on the subject. Two good reasons to make this a must see film.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Wednesday 7th May 2003
Distributed by: First Run
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Fresh: 55 Rotten: 3
Cast & Crew