Review: The Final Year

This fascinating political insight makes for the world’s grimmest before and after contrast. A tragedy unspooled over a year.

One year into President trump’s tenure it feels like the wheels have fallen off of the US administration, that it has crashed off-road, into a wall and burst into flames, engulfing all around it.

It’s quite startling then, to watch the final year of President Obama’s second term play out in Greg Barker’s fascinating documentary The Final Year. Focused on foreign policy, it follows his team’s attempt to shore up his legacy and records the tragic descent of scoffing at reality TV star Trump’s candidacy, then facing down the cold, dark horror of his triumph and the very real threat that everything they have achieved in eight years will be brushed away.

Offering remarkable access, then Secretary of State John Kerry, national security adviser Susan Rice, deputy national-security adviser Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power, the former US ambassador to the UN, are the main players, as they broach the Iranian nuclear deal, historic visits to Hiroshima and Laos, and the ever-increasing mess of the Syrian civil war, perhaps the 44th’s biggest failing.

Obama himself drifts in and out, ever ready with a wry aside, though never quite shaking off the great pressure swirling in his greying head. The staggering difference in how he and his team conduct themselves compared to what we have now is nothing short of tragic. That fateful election night leaves the eloquent Rhodes utterly speechless and a similarly shattered Power, in the company of Gloria Steinem and Madeline Allbright, no less, all the more determined to go hard, with, “the idea that we could go gently into the night,” no longer an option.

While it’s not the most probing of docos – what we see seems a little too polite and polished to be the full story – and some key subjects, such as Putin’s Russia, could definitely have been given more time, it’s an irresistibly snappy insight for politics dorks or diehard fans of The West Wing. If only real life had as happy an ending. Sadly, the grown ups have left the building.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords