The Final Year
The Final Year, a documentary by Greg Barker about the last 12 months of the Obama administration, is a political piece that manages to avoid the trap of becoming overt propaganda by focusing more on people than it does policies. Viewers are shown Barack Obama’s last year as president primarily through the eyes of three key members of his foreign policy team: former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.
Some of the editing is noticeably choppy, but this is balanced out by the material that Power and her loved ones provide. The choice to focus so much screen time on her is very wise because she is not only likeable, but is also the perfect example of the female voice that Trump’s America needs to hear. Refreshingly, she is shown as a mother, without being reduced to “The Mother” – a vital nuance that so many filmmakers fail to grasp.
None of those with the most screen time are strangers to cameras, interviews or pressure. So even though this “behind the scenes” view of them is a fascinating insight into Obama’s world, the discerning viewer might feel the urge to take what is said at more than just face value. However, as Rhodes points out before he answers a question with apparent candour, they can afford to be honest here because the film wasn’t due for release until after that vital year.
There are a few notable, even inexcusable, absences in the narrative, Michelle Obama and Obamacare being the most obvious. Even though there’s a wealth of ground to cover, barely touching on the former First Lady comes across as a gross oversight.
The documentary doesn’t totally shy away from criticism of the former president, for instance, by covering the crisis in Syria. But even though The Final Year’s focus is foreign policy, to avoid touching on Obamacare at all seems almost cowardly. Not only was it one of the politician’s most important and controversial policies, it was also a key topic in Donald Trump’s lamentable campaign. However, the real shame of this piece is that, in trying to evoke some of the hope that Obama used to embody, viewers leave with the exact opposite feeling. The sad, orange-tinted truth is inescapable; much of the good work done by the people in this film has already been undone.
The Final Year is released nationwide on 19th January 2018.
Watch the trailer for The Final Year here: