The Final Year ★★½


In a time of marked polarization and hostility in American politics, the most obvious dilemma that faces Greg Barker’s new documentary feature, 'The Final Year', is the kneejerk partisan response of the viewer. The film provides a behind-the-scenes, generally chronological depiction of Barack Obama’s foreign policy team over the course of 2016, as the administration’s priorities began to shift towards its long-term legacy. In its outlook, the feature is unabashedly progressive and internationalist, taking it as a given that the viewer broadly concurs with Obama's policy aims. Liberal filmgoers—especially those with a wonky interest in global affairs—are accordingly primed to regard the film in a positive, if sorrowful, light. Conservatives, on the other hand, are likely to spend the film’s duration either stewing over Barker’s lionization of the Obama era, or gleefully smirking at the administration’s fumbles, failures, and post-November despair.

Director Greg Barker is a seasoned, if undistinguished, documentary veteran, with a filmography that focuses predominantly on splashy topics related to politics, terrorism, and the military. (His director and co-director credits include half a dozen episodes of PBS’s esteemed public affairs program 'Frontline'.) The overall “Yes We Can, But…” tone that he privileges in 'The Final Year' certainly suggests that the filmmaker is counting on former Obama voters to turn out in the name of ideological nostalgia, making up for the presumed absence of conservative ticket-holders. Paradoxically, however, the most compelling aspects of 'The Final Year' are those that are largely incidental to party and ideology...

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