The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers takes an insightful look into one of the most shocking revelations in the history of American government. The film takes a historical account of Daniel Ellsberg’s life and how he reached his position within the Pentagon. Ellsberg narrates this documentary and details how after years of disagreeing with US tactics in Vietnam, he decided to smuggle out and leak a top secret report regarding US involvement in Vietnam to the press in the hopes of ending the controversial war.
The most standout aspect of this film was the ease in which filmmakers Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith were able to break down complex historical events as well as reveal the consequences of Elsberg’s choices through an array to archival photos and video, interviews and some creative reinterpretations. Running parallel to the historic story is the tale of Ellsberg’s own life in which he is portrayed as an individual who always stood by his choices no matter how they conflicted with his previous endeavours. In one of the many interviews Ellsberg makes it clear that he began the next chapter of his life (as an infamous whistleblower) after he saw Vietnam draft dodger Randy Kehler give a speech and proclaim that he would rather go to prison than fight in the war. Ellsberg acknowledged that he felt the same way and since he believed he had the power to stop the war, set out to do so by copying and releasing the Pentagon Papers to the NY Times and several other major publications.
Ehrlich and Goldsmith’s film did an excellent job in aligning the scandal of the Vietnam war with the current US led war in Iraq, such as how the US government spread misinformation in order to get the support of its people. Ellsberg, even in his old age, is still portrayed as an advocate for peace and makes clear his disappointment in the lack of public action against government tactics which he views as morally unjust. While Ellsberg’s actions may have led to the end of the war, the film makes it clear that unless there is a vast social movement to prevent war and hold governments accountable for their actions, the state of things will remain very much the same.
For all its good elements the film still showed some weak spots. Several of the interviews with Ellsberg seemed choppy as they had very little linking context to the story. The interview between an aged Ellsberg and Kehler in particular comes out of no where and feels wasted. The audience witnesses a short emotional speech from Ellsberg but there is no interaction shown between the two men, and no context is provided for Ellsberg’s statements, such as his claim that Kehler changed his life. It also would have been interesting to get some interviews from Ellsberg’s main opponents in the government. The film would have benefited from more careful integration of material but despite the cut and paste feel of some interviews overall the story progressed fluidly and Ellsberg’s character and history provides a fascinating subject for the film.