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With: Barack Obama, John Kerry, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes, Susan Rice
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Greg Barker
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 89
Date: 01/19/2018

The Final Year (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Administration Assistants

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Granted unprecedented access to President Obama's foreign policy team in 2016, filmmaker Greg Barker's documentary is both an inspiring portrait of an American leader and a shattering reality check.

In The Final Year, President Obama and his foreign policy team scramble to accomplish a few more goals — and put out a few more fires — before the end of his eight-year term in 2016. Secretary of State John Kerry, UN Ambassador Samantha Power, and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes travel the world, holding diplomatic meetings and talks to help solve problems, and especially trying to find ways to ease the crisis in Syria.

As the year winds to a close, there is only so much time to check off the things they wish to accomplish. But the November election arrives, and with it an unexpected result. The team may have done the best job it could, but its members are left facing an uncertain future.

The Final Year begins with messages of diplomacy and hope as the president's team tries to find peaceful, humanitarian ways to communicate with others and seek solutions. But, as Rhodes explains in one scene, they were unable to foresee a "growing authoritarianism and nationalism" beginning to trump common humanity and international order.

Barker's camera gets into some very personal spaces, especially when it comes to Rhodes and Power, both of whom seem proud and moved by the privilege of being able to do this work. They struggle with too much to do and too little time, and the movie effectively finds the humanity behind the duty.

Briefer interviews with Kerry and Obama himself are also thoughtful and bittersweet. As it reaches its conclusion, however, viewers that supported Obama will find the movie terribly crushing and bleak, while viewers that opposed him probably won't be interested in watching it at all.

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