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MOVIE REVIEWS IN BRIEF

A chilling case against Kissinger

October 25, 2002|Manohla Dargis

The bluntly effective documentary "The Trials of Henry Kissinger" takes as its point of departure the question posed by journalist Christopher Hitchens in his identically titled book: Is the former secretary of state and onetime national security advisor also a war criminal? To answer that question, directors Alex Gibney and Eugene Jarecki trace the Nobel laureate's evolution from German war refugee to prime-time celebrity in the Nixon White House, where he became pop media catnip ("Kissinger the swinger") even as he helped author some of the most devastating chapters in recent history, including the illegal bombing of Cambodia.

Produced by the BBC and narrated by actor Brian Cox, the documentary takes a confidently non-polemical approach to its subject. Deploying a seamless blend of talking-head interviews, trenchant archival photographs and newsreels, topped off by a sheaf of newly declassified U.S. government documents, Gibney and Jarecki are smart enough to let the evidence and experts do the talking. They eschew hysterics to present a case against Kissinger that seems solid enough for court, which is exactly where the elder statesman's detractors would like to see him. Although the weight of evidence here swings against Kissinger -- as do some usual suspects, such as Pacifica Radio host Amy Goodman -- a wealth of analysis and testimony from other, less obviously partisan sources proves even more damning.

Among the most chilling accounts are those provided by a U.S. military attache who hid money in his boots during the CIA-implemented plan to assassinate a Chilean general, a supporter of the country's democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, and a U.S. ambassador who sat in a room with Kissinger and President Ford as Indonesian leaders discussed their plans for East Timor, a bloody adventure executed with U.S. materiel. If the tragedy of the whole thing doesn't get you, perhaps the comedy will, be it a savagely funny clip from an old "Saturday Night Live" sketch or the sight of Alexander Haig fulminating against Hitchens.

"The Trials of Henry Kissinger": Unrated. Times guidelines: some atrocity footage. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. Exclusively at the Nuart.

*

--Manohla Dargis

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