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Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, The (DVD Review)

15 Jun, 2010 By: Billy Gil

Prebook 6/15/10; Street 7/20/10
First Run
Box Office $0.4 million
$27.95 DVD
Not rated.

It’s easy to forget our own history contains true stories filled with more intrigue and suspense than a Robert Ludlum novel. The Most Dangerous Man in America masterfully illuminates the story of Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked a top-secret government document to the New York Times, helping to stop the war in Vietnam, spur the Watergate scandal and end Richard Nixon’s presidency.

The film tells of how Ellsberg, working under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, struggled with the U.S. bombings in Vietnam and the “conscious lie” that under Nixon, the United States was not seeking to expand its operation in Vietnam, and that it was winning the war. In June 1967, McNamara ordered a comprehensive survey within the Pentagon about progress in Vietnam since 1945, and that report, which came to be known as “The Pentagon Papers,” would go down in history once a guilt-ridden Ellsberg read it. Ellsberg was overcome with emotion over discovering that four presidents misled the public and allowed the war to escalate to avoid the legacy of losing the war, so he committed to the idea of going to jail to make the report public.

The U.S. government’s response lends the story dramatic flair, from Nixon’s angry assault against the papers and Ellsberg (as shown through Nixon’s own words in recorded conversations), to then-Senator Mike Gravel’s entering of the papers into the Congressional Record and breaking down in exhaustion after attempting to read the thousands of pages of the document before the press. In terms of both educating about the subject of the Pentagon Papers and maintaining interest and excitement throughout, the film is a knockout. It’s a wonder no feature film has been made about the story yet, save for a TV film with James Spader — Paul Greengrass, this one’s calling your name.

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