Wormwood (TV Mini-Series 2017) Poster


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Long but compelling
jshoaf17 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I binged-watched this in one evening mostly because I was afraid that if I stopped I would never go back and finish it. I gather that happened to others. But I had the time and in the end it was a great ride. The story moves from one theory to another about one man's death over the decades--and the final conclusion is that his murder can't be solved unless a whole lot of other ones are brought to light at the same time, as well as some very dark moments in America's past. That is a worthy theme for 4 1/2 hours. As the story moves on, you realize that the collages of news stories, photographs (e.g. of actual people mixed up or jigsawed into the actors who play them in the re-enactments) and places are deeply tied into the story: the main character, Eric Olson, began making collages after his father's death and later developed a method for using collages to help traumatized people deal with their experiences. It seems to me that this method fits well with Morris's style, and the rhythms of the images can be very beautiful. Eric lost track of this work, apparently moved back into the house he lived in as a child, and talks at the end about having lost himself in his search for the truth about his father. He remains however extremely articulate and persuasive. In a sense, the film itself redeems Eric and his father by exposing the secrets they wanted known.
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Men staring at goats
samandor-1578125 December 2017
Love Errol Morris, but far too much time spent on dramatic non-enactments of men pensively staring at each other. An important story that needs to be told, and could have been told more effectively with half the screen time.
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Such an important story, but the director might have gone overboard
bjimagine14 January 2018
First the director, of whom I am a fan, is to be congratulated for bringing this important story to the screen, a sad and terrifying chapter in our history that is larger than the Frank Olson story itself and even the MK Ultra program. That said, he seems to have been constrained by production values demanded by post-Breaking Bad audiences: technical and artistic overkill, relentless musical tension, and genre-bending, when the story itself is not only mind-boggling but well-documented and essential history that is little known or understood. The length (as has been noted) is far more than necessary to tell this story. A two hour movie or a two part series would have been a more effective use of the raw material. I am however pleased to see the Frank Olson story presented with great respect, although the documentary parts were, to me, far the most compelling than the drawn out contemplative sequences. (I loved seeing footage of the confessions of US military personnel, captured in Korea during the war, to having dropped bio-warfare bombs on North Korea counterposed to their recanting the same confessions when back in the US, suggesting that the brainwashing may not explain these confessions.) I do wonder if Netflix pressured the producers to come up with a six part series for their own reasons. The full history of US intelligence black operations since World War 2 could probably fill many decades of screen time, should our media choose to bring such history to the light of day. I would love to think that this is only the beginning of such an essential exploration.
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Good Story that Needed Compression
monte-hayward22 April 2018
This needed to be edited down. I value the gradual unveiling of information in the order it was revealed historically. That is how it unfolded for one affected family.

There are way too many minutes of re-enactment, especially the rendering of details that the storytellers say are missing. At times, the re-enactment footage is re-used! Additional footage comes from productions of a Shakespeare tragedy. So it feels as if the Shakespeare OR the re-enactments would have been indulgence enough. Why feature both?

I was curious. This answered some questions. Wish it had done so more quickly.
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batenburgann17 December 2017
Loved this! Another classic Errol Morris but with a twist. Heartbreaking family tragedy set against the backdrop of shady CIA history. Suspenseful and thought-provoking.
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You can fast forward through a lot of meaningless scenes
rick-f22 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Wormwood has a compelling story about a possible CIA assassination of an army scientist, but the series fails to captivate you enough to be wowed. I have seen great documentaries and terrible documentaries, but this is what you would call a hot mess documentary.

The story talks about Dr. Frank Olson's alleged suicide and the CIA's involvment along with some background into biological warfare used during the Korean war. The family of Dr. Olson, particularly his son, digs into the incident which was initially ruled a suicide until evidence suggested otherwise leading into an investigation. I don't want to give too much detail, because it is worth watching and putting the story together yourself. You just have to be alert and patient. This is not the type of documentary you show to people with low attention span or severe multi-taskers.

The series was poorly made and presented. Each episode you have a lot of filler scenes of nothing really going on that pertains to the story. This is not something you watch at night after a long day of work, because you will fall asleep during one of their nothing scenes. There was no need for six episodes at all. If you eliminate the fifteen to twenty minutes of silent scenes then you could probably cut it down to three or four episodes.

This series is definitely worth watching, but don't go in with high hopes of expecting high quality footage or a lot of story. It follows like Pulp Fiction where you get bits and pieces of the story at different times. The story is simply not sequential and very difficult to follow, because of its poor execution.
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Mesermizing and Meticulous Documentary/Drama...Compelling, Informative, & Thrilling
LeonLouisRicci20 December 2017
The Macro Story of the CIA's Covert, Illegal, and Unethical MK-Ultra Program Unveiled in the 1970's is now in the Public Domain and has been Fodder for Historians and Conspiracy Theorist since its Embarrassing Entry in the Conscience of the American Psyche.

The Micro Story is of Eric Olsen's Quest to find out what Happened to His Father, Frank Olsen, a Government Scientist who was Found Dead on the Sidewalks of New York after Plunging 13 Stories from His Hotel Window is Meticulously Metered Out in this Errol Morris Documentary/Drama.

The Macro and the Micro are Combined for this Netflix Mini-Series that runs 4 hours from 6 Episodes. Those Searching for the Modernist Instant Gratification Fix might find this Format a bit Too Much.

But the Dazzled Presentation of Cut and Paste Collage cannot be Denied its Power and Entertainment Gravitas. The Real Footage of Politicians and Journalists puts the Viewer in the Time and Place, and the Dramatic Recreations of the Unknown "Real Happenings" of the Story are Compelling.

This "Collage" Creation of the Visuals, using Actual Print and Video is Mesmerizing and Informative. Overwhelming, but Magnetic it is a Ride of Historical Musings on a Headline Grabbing Uncovering of Government Hubris and a Personal Lifelong Lamenting from a Son's Dedication to the Truth Stemming from the Love of a Father who got Swallowed Up in the Paranoia of the Cold War.
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A True Bombshell Story Strangely Told
AudioFileZ20 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Wormwood is two productions in one. One is a theatrical version of an actual CIA operation gone wrong: the murder of Dr. Frank Olson. The other is the interview by the director with Olson's son revealing what happened within the family regarding what the initial claim by the CIA/government that Olson committed suicide.

I haven't ever made a movie, but I've watched quite a few of course. I generally like those based on true stories quite a bit if they're compelling and enlightening. I also love well made documentaries as a result. So, I should be thrilled with this combining of the two. The story is surely interesting, even jarring, enough. But, I'm less than bowled over here. It's probably because it's told in six episodes which could have been condensed to lesser theatrical repetition, to better effect. I'd have preferred a more concise and simple documentary.

I find the interviews with the son, lawyers, a surly author, and others to be most compelling. The re-enacted theatrical parts less so. There is a bombshell of a story here and instead of blowing it out, the theatrical part adds a lot of dark murky rambling. The absolute truth is what we're after as is Olson's son.

In the final episode we get a pretty clear picture of why Frank Olson was erased by the CIA as an dangerous dissident. The tipping point was the famed LSD experiment in which the CIA agents were taken on a weekend conference and given the drug without their consent. Olson's already conflicted views of what the agency was doing, even his own work in the biological warfare division, had been causing his great duress. This LSD thing took him over an edge and he had something close to a psychotic break likely egged on to a precipice by the LSD. Dr. Olson begged to be let go, fired. He wanted out and, like another shady organization, your in for life

Powerful people in the agency decided he was no longer an asset and would likely be a whistleblower if released. There is an unbelievable story here and the interviews bring the crux of it out. You have just got to have the patience to wade through the dual productions. I wonder how many viewers will be a bit upset at the author who claims to know the real story yet won't tell? Is he afraid for his own life or is he just protecting informants he's promised not to implicate? He says too much without telling which makes him one of the bad guys.

This is a complicated horror that goes on for the son, and likely created great harm in the entire family's life after Frank Olson's death. One thing is certain in the day we find ourselves in now where government trust is at a low-point, this just adds to that dis-trust.

There's a good 2-hour documentary in these six episodes and you just have to put up with the style in which the producers and director have chosen. I guess I thought Errol Morris would have gone one way and not making a movie with a documentary nested inside. Perhaps I'm missing the high-art of telling a story but I'd rather he just went the documentary route.
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There seems to be a pattern...
flynnflon9 May 2019
...with all these negative reviews.

Wormwood is a fresh take on the 'documentary with dramatic acting' genre. Using established actors to capture the dramatic reenactments, juxtaposed with Morris' real-life interviews and media clips from that time-period, brings a different level of legitimacy, to an incredibly fascinating story.

Worth the watch
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Far too long
shanayneigh16 December 2017
It is such a shame because the story is very interesting and an important one to tell. Especially today when people in general and the united press corps in particular are busy fawning over US intelligence services, heralding them as virtually immaculate purveyors of truth. It's as if their shady past, MKUltra in the case of this documentary or the Iraq war in more recent memory, has been thrown down the memory hole and we are now to trust their word implicitly.

There is an excellent 90 minute documentary hiding in this material. But Netflix (as usual) drags it out for far too long. Was there really a need for this documentary to be six episodes long?

It boggles the mind that this documentary was made by the fantastic documentary filmmaker who did Standard Operating Procedure, A Brief History of Time and The Thin Blue Line, not to mention my personal favorites Mr. Death and especially The Fog of War.
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Great Story but Badly Executed
sareed197117 December 2017
I only started watching Wormwoood because NetflixLife posted a tweet asking if anyone was getting into it. No one responded which truly surprised me, so I advised Netflix I'd give it a try.

The story is definitely worth telling. It has all the elements to create a decent docudrama. I always enjoy Peter Skarsgård, but the poor guy was so limited by the material. I'll will admit though, that the first episode was interesting enough for me to keep going.

But sadly, as early as episode 2, I realized 6 episodes were unnecessary. It could have been condensed to 2-3 episodes at the most. The pace is stultifying slow. I think this show might have been markedly better and perhaps more cohesive if they simply used the recorded interviews with the key characters.

I thought I'd try one more episode, but early into episode 3, Id had enough. I wasn't going to watch 3 more hours for any momentum or improved pacing.

I rarely review a show where I feel compelled to write a review. Wormwood is the exception. I simply had to express my disappointment in what could have been, with a different director perhaps, a terrific exposé on devious real life doings of the CIA in the late 40's through the early 70's.
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The macro elements (the story arc) combined with micro - small instances of editing brilliance or surreal imagery - make a film only a master Auteur could capture.
anthonycgoodfellow17 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I started watching this by accident (I was going to give it 5 minutes thinking "not another murder mystery of no consequence"). I knew nothing about who made it or subject matter. The elements were so masterfully put together that I was transfixed - the artistry of the shots, pace, the music, the story, the questions posed by the interviewer. I found out that it was Errol Morris and it made sense. The score by Philip Glass. The subject matter a complex issue of deep national security interest and relevancy to this day and the journy taken by Eric Olson which could be the direct reaction to counter balance the government policy of 1953 to dedicate his life to seek the truth which derailed his promising career in phycological. The film is really testament to Eric's deep intelligence who has outsmarted the CIA.

Some other reviewers here have totally missed what the story was about - and wouldn't surprise me if it was deliberate so ****spoilers**** - the story is about a scientist, Frank Olson, who fell into a situation where he was running the first biological weapons lab for the CIA. He realised what he was doing was messed up because he heard bio weapons were being used in North Korea and that people were being killed in torture techniques in east Europe used by CIA. Any sane person would think twice about what they were doing.

He was eventually questioned after being secretly given LSD (the incident with LSD has been used as a red herring from the secretive activities Olsen was engaged in i.e. bio-weapons, chemical warfare, mind altering chemicals for interrogation and the suspicion events around his death) and asked to recant, he didn't, so at the time the policy for dissidents was to murder them. This was approved by the Director of the CIA Allen W. Dulles. Which precipitated in him being executed according to CIA best practice at the time which was to be thrown out a building to make it look like an accident as per a key piece of evidence the film revolves around which is a CIA assassination manual from 1953 which instructs agents, "The most efficient accident, in simple assassination, is a fall of 75 feet or more onto a hard surface."

After the death of Frank Olson his family were told a cover story that he "fell or jumped" and were comforted by CIA agents who had precipitated that murder. Naturally Frank Olsen's son, Eric Olson, wanted the truth and when bits of information were revealed (such as Rockefeller Commission uncovered some of the CIA's MKULTRA activities in 1975 or after the body of Frank Olson was exhumed when and forensically analysed showing that he had been struck in the head BEFORE falling out the window or finding the CIA assassination manual or talking to key actors who told different accounts of what happened at the time) showing that the original story was given to the family was factually incorrect he wanted to know what had occurred and still wants to know. Later on the family invited to meet the President Gerald Ford and CIA director William Colby in an exercise of damage control orchestrated by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. The family signed an agreement that meant the government was liable to future litigation and given a sum of money. That agreement would later derail future litigation taken by Eric once facts were made public that showed that even the apology by the president and the promise of the truth from the President and the story given was a lie and Frank Olsen was murdered by the Government.

The series ends with journalist Sy Hersh who confirms with a source that the government had a "mechanism" to kill dissidents who they perceived as a risk but says he isn't willing to publish it because if he discloses what happened it will reveal his source.

I'm writing most of this from the top of my head which is testament to how the series was made, events analysed from multiple angles, repetition, surreal flashbacks, expert exposition and description of events and the poetic and intelligent was Eric Olson explains events as they occurred and how he relates to those events.

It touches on deep philosophical truths about the extent people go to find out the truth and the irony that closure doesn't happen because their life is sacrificed for the cause. IT touches on deep philosophical and political questions about the nature of democracy vs security and the dangers in the past. The film goes all the way up to 2017 but there is no mention of the present Trump era which is refreshing and at the same time the film could apply to the current situation where Trump has fascist tendencies, said torture works and approved of waterboarding "in a heartbeat," plus "a hell of a lot worse." Trump also planned with Erik Prince for a private spy network.

A critical thing to say is that there isn't many woman, both behind the camera and in front, as part of the subject, apart from the wife of Frank Olsen who is more of a prop than driving actor.

Lastly, there are some shots over the shoulder of Morris that I found captivating. It was when Still didn't know that he made the film and he held his hand in a certain way that was surreal. Hard to explain but there were many small instances of editing brilliance or surreal imagery that only a master Auteur could capture.
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The Emperor's New Clothes as cut by a Sycophant Editor
nick9496527 October 2017
From the point of view of a long-standing Errol Morris fan, I cannot for the life of me see what is so unique about this series. I only saw the first 2 hours, but those were 2 excruciating hours. After that, I couldn't take it anymore.

The entire time I waited for some kind of revelation to happen, or maybe a little of the magic of the first few Documentaries by Mr. Morris, but there seems to be hardly any left after all these years. My hero is now a one-trick pony, reiterating his greatest hits, using the techniques he used well over 3 decades ago, and repeating them again and again.

Don't get me wrong, I really wanted to like this series but I can only say that, if Errol was interested in making a project that would have some impact, he might have considered getting himself an Editor who would challenge his meandering, repetitive, tedious method of storytelling. Errol, my best suggestion is to find someone to cut your movies who is not a sycophant.

The basic storyline is drawn from the many many hours of interviews with a man who's father was a pawn of the CIA and who plunged to his death from what was considered a 'suicide' after taking LSD (against his will) as part of a super-secret experiment. Now, I like conspiracies much more than the average moviegoer, so ol'Errol is preaching to the choir when he gets his audience mired in one conspiracy after another.

But the drawback is that we have to watch every single solitary possibility acted out in long, drawn-out, talky sequences, all of which serve no other purpose than to justify the "series" part of the equation. (All I can surmise is that the Netflix execs must have wanted an exclusive series that they could promote the hell out of -- since the documentary does not justify any more than a 90 minute treatment.) Amid all of this is the myth that LSD supposedly would cause a normally stable man to commit suicide. Of course, that assumption is false, but for some ridiculous reason, the family believes it.

Had Errol done his usual routine, get the facts, get the talking heads, overlay the headlines, and tied it all up at the end of 90 minutes, this would have been a work of genius along with his many other achievements. However, someone let the kid into the candy store and allowed him to gorge himself on as much padded mishmosh of re-enactments as he could possibly stomach. The result is a very bloated, very over-acted, very slow, very verbose series.
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The title Wormwood is the truth and that is why it was allowed to drag on
neomaxcom24 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Other reviewers have complained of the pace of this six-episode documentary on the death of Dr. Frank Olsen in 1953. It is a bit slow on occasion but I sense that was intentional as it was the most apt way for the audience to grasp the pit of time that the main character, Eric Olsen, devoted to his effort to gain justice.

As far as the revelation that our government kills people - even innocent people - duh? If you are at all engaged in our society you know this from the light fiction of the 007 series to recalling why the Nixon Administration sought to suppress the Pentagon Papers back in the 1970's ... or to recall one of Seymour Hursh's articles exposing Mei Lai - who cares now.

And Eric Olsen's story of his expose of the murder of his father in 1953 is summed up by the principle in the closing moments that he gained no great catharsis or anything by seeing this personally devastating story to its conclusion. The whole endeavor comes across a bitterness and a wasted life.

As one who follows our government close enough to read between the lines, it is obvious to me that Seymour Hersh's contact had access to the presidential directives that are much like those that we know that Barack Obama was known to execute that called for the elimination of national security targets. (You know even US citizens - such as the Imam and his 16-year old son who were killed in a drone attack in Yemen some years back.) This probably means that Dwight Eisenhower's name was on the top secret presidential order that called for Frank Olsen's killing.

The good news is that there is a tradition in the executive office of the president that prevents the execution of people arbitrarily. Dr. Olsen, as head of the biological weapons section at Fort Dietrich, had probably suggested he was about to blow the whistle on our use of some kind of biologic weapon in the Korean conflict. At that time it would have been a serious blow to US credibility both overseas and at home.

Had the documentary been more explicit in its coverage of what Dr. Olsen did and knew in his work, the estimation of his decency in wanting to blow the whistle would have been tempered by his complicity in what could be truly horrific crimes. But then it wouldn't have been Eric Olsen's story.

That this documentary skims over those elements and only alludes to the seriousness of the cold war and the risk of a nuclear holocaust, hides the historical justification for his elimination. Still, by presenting how the whole sordid story played out over time and even the limits of what a storied journalist would put on the record today about events then, its pace and presence as a work of art in the documentary genre is justified.

For instance, the documentary presents another dozen or so 'suspicious' deaths from foreign leaders to government workers as examples of other such 'deniable' exterminations. Certainly such historically similar incidents slow the pace but add certainty to message being written in between the lines by this documentary.

The point is this documentary is not news but a genuine expose of how, as I.F. Stone was fond of saying, governments always lie. This is Eric Olsen's bitter story of how he spent his life parsing the multitude of lies fed him and by extension, us. When you understand it from his perspective, it is a brilliant, if not cautionary tale with the message; there is no catharsis and it is okay to let it go.
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This is the real stuff - truth 101
reallaplaine22 December 2017
Wormwood is one of those docu-films which could easily go by the boards and not get a lot of notice, and yet, it is highly relevant. Typically, for decades, Hollywood has depicted the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency, as a dirty black-ops hand of the US government. The agency that lives by the mantra "anything goes" in the name of national security. Wormwood takes us back to 1953 when a scientist, Frank Olson, working on a top secret chemical warfare program, under the auspices of the CIA, suddenly dies and his death is tagged a suicide. His son, Eric, goes on to spend decades trying to force the truth into the open and asking for accountability from the government who is supposed to oversee this agency. This is a true story, the details and re-enactments are quite brilliantly done. The duplicity of the CIA is well-revealed. It's a compelling rendering about one man who goes up against the might of the US government in a relentless search for the truth, and of course, what he discovers in the end is sadly shocking. If you want a dose of reality, watch the film - it will make you question things.
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Another dragged out docu series by Netflix
llamasite18 December 2017
I won't waste your time like Netflix did mine. It's very repetitive and dragged out.

Could have been a good hour and a half documentary. Netflix drags it out to 6 episodes for god only knows why. They seem to be forcing every documentary into a series.

Just under 3 hours in before I gave up, after learning not much more than a paragraph long synopsis.
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A story not a series
chrisharrey18 December 2017
As much as the story was worthy of a documentary it was just too drawn out and didn't need or deserve 6 long episodes to detail. Unfortunately for both the family in subject and the viewer, there is no real outcome or revelation that grants this long story, the viewer might have felt the 6 part mini series was justified if at the end they were blown out the water but sadly this didn't happen. I felt I needed to know the man the story was about but no details of this guy were given at all other than he was a scientist for the army, more details were given on his son who talks throughout the documentary often interrupted by the film maker unnecessarily. Because of this I failed to have any sort of relationship with the subject and so didn't have the yearn for truth that was so desperately wanted by the interviewed parties.
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too long but well made
avid-331 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Stylish but so DARK (literally DARk ...as in BLACK pictures on the screen for to long) drawn-out but stylish....I got fed up half way though ep 6...I guess I did not reveal much in the end anyway. I liked the editing style but it would have been better half the length.
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Boring and not worth watching
johanna_forsberg-5876519 December 2017
Don't waste your time watching this. Interesting and important topic but boring and badly executed documentary series.
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tracy-malboeuf16 December 2017
I saw in the Netflix clip "MK Ultra" so I was curious to watch this as my grandmother was one of the victims in Canada for this CIA experiment. But the editing was horrible, I couldn't bring myself to watch one episode. I agree with the other reviewers. The subject is like a 45 minute documentary and get a new editor. I guess I'm going to have to find and watch "The Sleep Room", which got a pretty decent ratings.
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How much more evidence do you need?
Prolecenter11 January 2018
This was entertaining, informative and even disturbing, but it is something that you MUST watch. LSD and mind control experiments are just the tip of the iceberg. The CIA was willing to go to any lengths in its desperate fight against communism and this documentary proves it. Most Americans, I'm afraid, will be in denial about these things or simply not care, but it looks like the communists were right all along.
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If you want just the facts in a much better format watch this instead.
jc120131 December 2017
Got three episodes in then had to turn this snoozefest off... probably around the time the same "shaky cam gas mask dudes" and "purple filter spiders crawling around" vignettes were rolled out to fill another interminable 10 unnecessary minutes of what is, in reality, a very interesting 60 minute story dragged out for 6 freaking hours.

... and it's actually super interesting. Hope that helps someone else!
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wooden, yes
abmarchant22 December 2017
. . . also obvious, tiresome, repetitious, and low-rent. Long, moody pauses substitute for meaningful dialogue. The interviews are edited to draw attention to words that the filmmaker can then clumsily twist. The cinematography is weighed down by endlessly recycled special effects.
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Didn't they outlaw torture?
killerqueen-7039518 December 2017
More than 50 years after the CIA mentally tortured this guy, Netflix tortures us with his story. Sadly, it could have been a great story if the producer/director ever got around to telling it! Instead, we're dragged through six episodes of fragmented storytelling with highly-stylized editing that often distances the viewer from the narrative. What through-line does exist, reminded me of a ride on Disneyland's Space Mountain. We're going this way, then that way, then this way again. But in the end, we don't feel thrilled, just exhausted.
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Unnerving Powerful Stunning
jacquelinewrite12 January 2018
I can't recommend this film highly enough. It fully engrossed me.

The hybrid of drama and documentary served the story in a organic and mind blowing way. The documentary story of a man digging for the truth about his father and the effect that that search for truth has had on his life while the dramatization of his fathers story unfolds was powerful and painfully thought provoking.

The cinematography and the production design were breath taking!

Peter Sarsgaard's performance was award worthy -- his performance broke my heart.

Man. Errol Morris has delivered a film like nothing I have seen before. And his unique way of telling this story does not serve him as a director but rather the story -- the complexity of shots and hybrid story telling is organic and sincere.
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