Wormwood Screen 8 articles

Wormwood

2017

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  • The most affecting moment in Wormwood occurs not during any of the historical reenactments—Peter Sarsgaard’s performance as Frank is only a notch or two above the kind of thing you might see on the History Channel—but at the end, when journalist Seymour Hersh is explaining to Morris that he can’t say on the record _exactly_ what he now knows to be true about the case without burning his high-level source, but he still wants to offer Eric some closure.

  • If Morris had simply recounted the facts, even in a way that emphasized the real suffering of the victims, that would have shocked nobody. They are the stuff of every spy movie. . . . But unlike that genre, Wormwood . . . doesn’t produce dramatic tension by exploiting our desire to be in on the secret. It exposes us to the baser side of that desire: the narcissism, mean-spiritedness, and contempt that are so often the psychological realities of secrecy.

  • Now streaming on Netflix, Errol Morris's Wormwood might have made a superb two-hour feature—but as it stands, the series (which unfolds in six parts) runs twice that length. It's still an engaging and sometimes enthralling work, raising provocative questions about CIA conspiracies and how individuals reconcile with national history. Yet it's also repetitive and padded out, stuffed with stylistic flourishes that add little to the material.

  • This won’t be the first time that an Errol Morris film has raised troublesome questions about the capacity of documentary—and of Morris’s documentaries specifically—to establish truth. With its encyclopedic sprawl and meticulous construction of a meta-spider-web pattern of fact (the tour de force editing is by Stephen Hathaway), Wormwood is a consummately involving piece of true-crime entertainment. But it’s a dilemma of a film.

  • A romantic view — and I wouldn't entirely put this past Morris — is that Olson is, like his interlocutor, an artist with a magnificent obsession that sustains him even when it's doomed to failure. But in Wormwood he emerges with enormous poignancy as a tragic figure, perpetually stuck in limbo like the father we see tumbling, over and over, to his fate.

  • The filmmaking gathers all the bits and pieces of the story together and arranges them in ways that are clever, surprising, and so aggressively (and deliberately) self-conscious that there are times when it gets close to turning into an intellectualized formal exercise. There are times when you might question whether six hours was necessary to tell this particular story — I often wonder that about Netflix productions — but there’s never a moment where Olson or Morris fail to fascinate.

  • In terms of scale and narrative ingenuity, Wormwood is as staggering as any Morris film—pure heroin for the conspiracy buffs who binged on Making of a Murderer—though one wishes that the filmmaker was less fancy. The recreations bloat the film and distract from the interviews and montages of found footage, relying on visual clichés that are purposefully reminiscent of a second-rate noir, suggesting an attempt to illustrate how crime becomes fantasy to then become a part of our cultural fabric.

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    Film Comment: Nicolas Rapold
    November 03, 2017 | November/December 2017 Issue (p. 74)

    Morris here fuses The Thin Blue Line with The Fog of War, crimes an dwar crimes, with recourse to Hamlet, Out of the Past, the Fugs' "CIA Man," and a fresh blizzard of bureaucratic secrets. . . . Wormwood moves past modes of countercultural protest and post-Bush exposé to yield an intensely personal stare into the void, its tone sealed by interviews with a hermetic Sy Hersh, who has always seen worse. In the immortal words of the Fugs, "Fuckin' A, man."

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