Director Greg Barker’s take on the wind-down of the Obama administration comes across as a thoughtful elegy to a civilized way of government. It is a sad reminder of a bygone period that has given way to the uncivilized depths of the Trump administration bent on undoing everything good about what the Obama presidency attempted to accomplish.
Barker captures the pall that set in when Trump was surprisingly elected after all the expectations that Clinton would become the first woman President, and the sadness of dismantling the Obama administration to make way for the new one.
But the buildup to the momentous events consists of following the dedicated work of key officials in the Obama years. We get a portrait of John Kerry as Secretary of State, striving to solve world problems. We see Samantha Power, Ambassador to the United Nations, in her role. We also get a picture of the important Susan Rice, serving as National Security Advisor, and there is Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor.
Collectively this portrait of Obama officials demonstrates a special caliber of public service, in contrast to the mishmash of what we have seen in this first year of Trumpism. Director Barker has succeeded in giving us an abundance of detail as well as insight into those on whom he focuses.
At times the film proceeds in routine fashion, but the total effect emerges as strong when we observe the sad ending to an era that marked the service of the first African-American President. Whatever the shortcomings, his administration was, as seen in “The Final Year,” dedicated to creating better lives for those most in need. Perhaps such a time will come again one day. A Magnolia Pictures and HBO Documentary Films release. Reviewed January 19, 2018.