THE UNKNOWN KNOWN is a documentary, or more interview, that Kernel Andrew hit up at the Sydney Film Festival. It is released from UK film house Hanway Films and I can find nothing indicating an Australian distributor or pending release so we will put it out there now. It is basically the Donald Rumsfeld film, it is all him and a film for true military history fans or fans of Rumsfeld. Totally not my thing but definitely Kernel Andrews. You should be able to acquire this film online and as a matter of fact, if interested, you can buy it right HERE. Enjoy Kernel Andrew’s review below…all the best…JK.





I have been waiting to see this movie since it was first announced. I like many other fans of military history were enamoured with the brilliant 2003 documentary by Errol Morris (which won an Oscar) about Robert McNamara former US Secretary of Defense titled THE FOG OF WAR. The UNKNOWN KNOWN is essentially a bookend piece to this movie and is equally as fascinating and at times disturbing. Morris this time turns his attention to the Iraq War and one of its principal “thinkers” Donald Rumsfeld.

The title THE UNKNOWN KNOWN is a term coined by master obfuscator and wordsmith Donald Rumsfeld (former Senator, advisor and Secretary of Defense during the GW Bush’s excursions into the Middle East). This movie is a character examination of this fascinating man set against the backdrop of some of the most monumental US policy decisions of recent times. The title is aptly picked for your see Rumsfeld is a master of language. He begins the proceedings by letting us know in his mind the differences between known knowns, known unknowns, unknown unknowns and unknown knowns. This is a dizzying array of near sound words. But listening to the charming former Secretary you begin to almost believe his distinctions.

Rumsfeld is a fascinating character study. Words are his friends, they are his weapons. But he does not use them to wound, rather he uses them to convince and to cajole. It was good to see Morris as an interviewer only interrupt the conversation when he felt Rumsfeld’s answer “sagging”. This for me was a deft touch, unlike many interviewers who impost themselves on the answers to press a point. With a contentious figure and issue like US foreign policy post 2000 this could have been easy to do.

Morris himself famously stated that when he first engaged Rumsfeld to make the movie he wanted to give an audience an understanding and answers regarding the War in Iraq and the War on Terror. Rumsfeld agreed. Morris, following the movie, mentioned that actually after making the movie and the 33 hours of interview time he was less certain he didn’t do anything but muddy the waters.




It would be easy with such a hot button issue and a contentious figure like Rumsfeld to sit there and deliberately not answer questions. Rumsfeld is far more intelligent and smarter than that. He is candid, lucid, charming and most of all funny. This is disarming, his answers (well at least in Rumsfeld’s mind) provide a commentary that shows clear and rational decision making marred by evidence based decision making. This is probably not what an audience wants to hear. But in the theatre where I reviewed this movie many audience members hostile to the interviewee half way through began to laugh at some of his replies, not in jest but with Rumsfeld. He really is that charming.

But that is the problem and Rumsfeld’s genius. The more charming, precise and clarifying he is on questions the further and further away the truth seems to slip. His words are literally like a smokescreen, you can become lost in them until you don’t know what prompted the question to begin with.

The movie itself is brilliantly set to the music of superb composer Danny Elfman and combines a selection of newsreel, interview and film footage from Rumsfelds past. There is a lot there. Apart from his last role Rumsfeld was a Congressman during the Nixon administration, served under Gerald Ford as Whitehouse Chief of Staff and was elected the youngest Secretary of Defense in US history. This is not a man that relied on family connections he is a man of vast intelligence, vision and charisma. At one point he was rumoured to be a Presidential front runner.

Through all of this charm something begins to emerge, especially when Morris presses him on his own rise to political power, distance. There is distance from his friends and colleagues and from decisions that were made. I got the sense he was the ultimate Republican Machiavelli. When pressed on Iraq and decisions made he is clever enough to point to lack of evidence or accusations of human rights violations to others such as Powell, Rice and to a certain extent Cheney. The truth, it seems, is something we will never know. At least not from a man as gifted with verbal chicanery as Rumsfeld

This is a brilliant character study and one I wholeheartedly recommend.


4 and a Half Pops