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Thursday, September 23rd, 2021  

The Diplomat

Studio: HBO
Directed by David Holbrooke

Nov 02, 2015 Web Exclusive
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From Vietnam to Kosovo to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke was there. Holbrooke, profiled by his son in the new HBO documentary The Diplomat, was a key fixture in every democratic presidential administration from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama until he died of a torn aorta in 2010. He was directly involved in peace talks between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia and played a top role in stopping Slobodan Milosevic’s attacks on Kosovo in the 1990s.

Holbrooke, while a fairly familiar face in political circles, existed as a bit of a man behind the curtain, especially to his son, David – the film’s director.

David Holbrooke’s general conceit is to get to know his father better in death than he ever did in life. Noble and sentimental as it is, it never comes together with complete cohesion. This is a shame because there is a really good documentary somewhere in this subject matter, but the junior Holbrooke only touches on ideas.The problem comes from deciding which direction to take and only going halfway down each path before turning back. Half measures make half a movie. David Holbrooke, for all his good intentions, can’t seem to decide what story he wants to tell.

At times it is a portrait of strained familial relations from a father who is distant both emotionally and physically. Then, this thread is entirely abandoned to focus more on the man’s toughness and straightforwardness. At other lengths, the patriarch disappears and the movie becomes more of a document of the United States’ involvement in international diplomacy. All these ideas could work in tandem, but are instead treated as separate entities. It’s frustrating because there are glimpses of intrigue.

It would have been better served with someone else at the helm because the weakest element is the sentimental one, while the strongest is the section on Richard Holbrooke’s diplomatic relationship with Milosevic. The stories of Serbia’s conflicts, and Holbrooke’s involvement in bringing peace to the area, is compelling and well told. And then it gets bogged down by extraneous story threads bordering on hero worship. By the end of his life, Richard Holbrooke was slowly being phased out and the movie kind of glosses over the relationships between him and the members of Obama’s inner circle. More time spent considering this would have given the end of the documentary more weight.

Focusing less on Holbrooke’s potential shortcomings is understandable coming from a son trying to understand his father, but it works more as a personal project than as an investigative documentary.

Author rating: 5/10

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Average reader rating: 10/10


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