Chronicling the last twelve months of Barack Obama’s tenure, Greg Barker’s The Final Year is an intimate, earnest and insightful expose of the key players of his departing administration and the legacy left in his wake as the world enters the Trump era.
From charting the day-to-day workings of Obama’s close-knit team of advisers as they work non-stop to achieve their extensive final objectives before the end of his term, Barker extrapolates threads of serious questions surrounding the USA’s foreign policy and the manner in which it is implemented. The grand notions of democracy and diplomacy, their purpose, intent and execution, are examined in practical terms by those individuals whose responsibility it is to ensure positive outcomes, progression and awareness for the issues and events at hand.
Sat in cars, conference rooms and poky office spaces at the White House, the first-hand footage shot by Martina Radwan and Erich Roland brings us up close to the President and the stressful, at times claustrophobic but always living and breathing inner circle. The respective experience, viewpoint and opinions of close aide and speech writer Ben Rhodes, Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power and Secretary of State John Kerry may differ but each brings a great deal to the table – and indeed Barker’s film.
Though they speak with admiration and respect for one another, it is notable that the interviewees are never questioned simultaneously. Each are given their own talking head spaces, but the determination and steadfast dedication of all is assured. The director does not set out to glorify his charges, nor bang the drum for liberal America per se, but there is little doubt as to which side of the fence he sits politically. Rhodes’ derisive smile and surety that Trump will not win the vote when asked of this eventuality when on a state visit to Laos is galling in hindsight but one which reflects what many around the world considered an impossibility.
His sage, calming influence is felt throughout and his noting that “Imposing our [the USA’s] will doesn’t work,” is an obvious one learnt from mistakes of the past (Iraq, Afghanistan) and one, sadly, we fear may not be heeded as the superpower moves forward under its new leadership. Kerry, too, is an extremely interesting and eloquent subject. Denying any suggestion that he is a pacifist, in spite of library footage showing him as a young veteran taking a stand against the war in Vietnam, it is he who sees utmost value in face-to-face negotiation and conflict resolution rather than the standard all-guns-blazing response. A trusted front-line ally of Obama, his commanding presence and incredible staying power (he’s now 73) is admired and acutely felt.
Power, whose children feature and act as a reminder of the everyday lives that continue even as global catastrophes in Syria, Iran, across Africa and further afield must be dealt with, offers a more impassioned, personal line of testimony. Herself the beneficiary of US immigration (she moved from Ireland at the age of nine), she has witnessed first-hand what the American dream can be, what a great leader should be, and therefore speaks from the heart as well as from an articulate, resolute professional standpoint. The Final Year is a parting gift, a sermon that teaches without preaching to the converted, worthy of its charismatic leader. But it’s also a warning, a call for clear heads, forward thinking and compassion at a time when these are needed most.
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Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens