“The Final Year” captures the chaos of working for the most powerful person in the free world, but gets swept up in its own ambition to accomplish everything at the final minute. The HBO doc is supposedly the rawest, most intimate look into life behind the West Wing yet, but it struggles with pacing issues, stumbling over its progressive-leaning feet.
It’s still good and worthwhile, particularly for “The Final Year’s” extensive attention given to Ben Rhodes and Samantha Power, White House staffers whose names only regular Politico readers would know but had just as much influence as Obama himself. Rhodes certainly gives an aura that he’s the smartest guy in the room, speaking to the camera with unshakable confidence that his beliefs are always right. Power conveys a wisdom and gentleness in her approach, still able to go toe-to-toe with Russians in briefings but not above sharing sentimental moments with loved ones around her.
“The Final Year,” then, becomes not-so-much Obama travelogue as diary of two democratic stewards. In this sense, the “fly on the wall” appeal of “The Final Year” feels a bit disappointing, as if we’re only getting a preview of what the administration wants us to see. When we come across higher-ups like Obama and John Kerry, they speak like they’re reading from their own Wikipedia pages or reciting passages they memorized from DemocracyQuotes.com the night before.
When the film reaches its big November elephant in the room, the moment feels wasted. We get a speechless Rhodes sitting outside, trying to comprehend the fact that 8 years of his work will likely be dismantled or irreparably damaged, but a moment later he comes across as the same ole cool, measured, poly-sci whiz kid. Perhaps this is “The Final Year” trying to reflect how the administration had no time to process that election loss and had to keep trudging forward like they had been all year. But by close, we’re left just with an extended glimpse of life inside the White House, familiar with its operations but not its faces.