If Fahrenheit 9/11 offered Michael Moore the chance to vent his spleen about the Bush administration and its handling of the war with Iraq, Robert Greenwald's Uncovered: The War on Iraq offers the experts their turn. The result is a highly critical and impossible-to-dismiss examination of the administration's rush to war that is sure to move both sides of the political spectrum to apoplexy.
Greenwald, whose Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism opened at the Senator last week, clearly doesn't buy into the president's oft-stated contention that ousting Saddam Hussein was a simple matter of us doing it to him before he did it to us. Rather, the film insists, the war was based on unfounded assertions and faulty intelligence (charges that have been much in the news in recent months), and was part of an effort by neo-conservatives (or neo-cons, in the parlance of the film) to spread American-style values and democracy to a region of the world that has been proving especially troublesome.
To buttress his argument, Greenwald parades 20 experts before the camera, men and women with impressive credentials - former CIA operatives, diplomats, presidential appointees, even weapons inspectors who worked in Iraq - and lets them poke holes in the administration's position that the war was both necessary and inevitable.
Much of the case put forth in Uncovered has been heard before; the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have yet been found is harped on endlessly - as perhaps it should be, since that was one of the Bush administration's primary rationales for going to war.
"The evidence simply was not there," insists Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran of the CIA and founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, a group of former agency employees who question the war.
There's also a point-by-point refutation of Secretary of State Colin Powell's address to the United Nations, in which he presented the case for war using, in several instances, faulty, outmoded or debatable intelligence.
Greenwald, who received funding for Uncovered from the liberal MoveOn.org group and from the Center for American Progress, has assembled a roster of experts with credentials that can't help but impress. While some choices may seem odd (John Dean, of Nixon White House fame, doesn't seem the most obvious choice), most are right on the mark.
One of the most persuasive arguments that there simply were no WMDs is made by David Kay, who was appointed by the CIA to lead the search for such weapons; another persuasive voice is that of Hans Blix, who led the United Nations' team of inspectors. "It is somewhat puzzling, I think," says Blix, in one of the film's most telling statements, "that you can have a hundred percent certainty about the weapons of mass destruction's existence and zero certainty about where they are."
Hearing Blix and Kay call the administration's actions and conclusions into question resonates in a way no third-party analyst's words ever could.
And unlike Outfoxed, where much of the case laid out against Murdoch and his Fox News Channel lacked context, and where shades of meaning were sometimes difficult to discern, things are pretty clear here. The experts talk, Bush administration officials are shown making statements, and then the experts talk some more, often pointing out the contradictory nature of what's been said or insisting that those doing the talking must have, or at least should have, known better.
Of course, Uncovered has a point of view and is not interested in being objective; Greenwald clearly feels the Bush administration lied about its reasons for going to war and stacks his deck to ensure that point comes across clearly (supporters of the president and his policies can doubtless put their own spin on things). But saying Uncovered has a point of view is hardly a condemnation, nor is it alone enough to recommend the film. The triumph of Greenwald's work, which he expanded in recent months from its original 53-minute length, is that his argument is laid out chillingly, logically and, thanks to all those experts with all their years of experience, credibly.
Directed by Robert Greenwald
Released by Cinema Libre Studios
Time 83 minutes
Sun Score ***1/2