The Most Dangerous Man in America:
Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers

Directed by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith

Written by Lawrence Lerew, Rick Goldsmith, Judith Ehrlich, and Michael Chandler

92 Minutes - Documentary

Movie Trailer

John Dean
Himself - Whote House Counsel to President Nixon
Daniel Ellsberg
Patricia Ellsberg
Richard Falk
Himself - Professor of International Law
Max Frankel
Himself - Washington Bureau Chief, New York Times
Mike Gravel
Himself - Senator (D - Alaska)
Morton (Mort) Halperin
Himself - Supervisor, Vietnam War Study
Egil "Bud" Krogh
Himself - Director, 'Plumbers' Unit - Nixon White House
Thomas "Tom" Oliphant
Himself - Reporter, Boston Globe
Tony Russo
Himself - RAND Analyst
Thomas Schelling
Himself - RAND Analyst / Nobel Laureate
Hendrick Smith
Himself - Reporter, New York Times
Janaki Tschannerl
Herself - Peace Activist
Howard Zinn
Himself - Historian

Roger Ebert:***

I thought I was pretty much familiar with the story about how the Pentagon Papers were leaked to the press in 1971. I knew that Daniel Ellsberg, a high-level analyst at the Pentagon and the RAND Corp., had Xeroxed the Pentagon's secret history of the Vietnam War and leaked it to the press, notably the New York Times.

What I never realized was what a high-ranking employee really Ellsberg was and how secret the Pentagon Papers really were. "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers," a documentary by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, explains all this. Locked in safes, the papers' existence was a secret even from President Lyndon B. Johnson, who, it was believed, would have been infuriated by such a history. Ellsberg didn't merely leak the papers, he played a key role in contributing to them.

Ellsberg, in short, could not be dismissed as merely a sneak and a snitch, but a man who had direct knowledge of how the American public had been misled. He saw himself not as a peacenik war protester, but as a government servant exercising a higher moral duty. "The Most Dangerous Man in America" traces Ellsberg's doubts about authority back to a childhood tragedy and forward to the influence of young men who went to prison for their convictions.

It is a skillful, well-made film, although, since Ellsberg is the narrator, it doesn't probe him very deeply. We see his version of himself. A great deal of relevant footage has been assembled and is intercut with stage re-creations, animations and the White House tapes of Richard Nixon, who fully advocated the nuclear bombing of Hanoi. Kissinger was apparently a voice of restraint.

Mark Jenkins, NPR

Forever defined by a single action, Daniel Ellsberg is known as the man who blew the whistle on the Vietnam War. But neither Ellsberg's choice nor its execution was simple, as Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith's Oscar-nominated documentary reveals.

Narrated by Ellsberg himself, the movie follows its protagonist's disillusionment as it blossoms into the decision to copy the 7,000-page secret report on the war's conduct. (His teenage kids helped.) Then the focus switches to The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Boston Globe — and the lawyer who won a landmark Supreme Court ruling against prior restraint of news reports.

It's a dubious charge. The Pentagon Papers contained a history of the Vietnam War that revealed how presidents all the way back to Truman had deceived the American people; they didn't include current military information that might have helped the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese.

Ehrlich and Goldsmith found plenty of interesting archival images, especially for the lesser-known first half of the story. But they sometimes rely on Errol Morris-style reconstructions of events, which are less deft than Morris'. Distractingly, they also use sketchy animation for a few sequences.

. . .The Most Dangerous Man in America lives up to its subject's importance. It's not only a fine introduction for viewers who don't remember the Vietnam era, but also offers some revelations to those who thought they knew it reasonably well.

Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post

As "The Most Dangerous Man in America" opens, Ellsberg describes how, in the fall of 1969, he photocopied 7,000 pages of a classified history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam and ultimately made it public in the New York Times, The Washington Post and other outlets.

Narrated by Ellsberg and told through a carefully layered collage of archival footage, reenactments, animation and present-day interviews with eyewitnesses, "The Most Dangerous Man in America" grabs viewers with intrigue and high-stakes derring-do and never lets go. After a combination breakdown-breakthrough, when he decides to risk his career and blow the whistle, Ellsberg is hounded by Richard Nixon's administration and the FBI, indicted on charges that could mean life in jail and finally targeted in a plot that would come to light during the Watergate investigation.

Most amazingly, "The Most Dangerous Man in America" succeeds not just as a documentary, but also as an example of genres that most fiction films struggle to get right . . .

This page was prepared by Kaitlin Woody

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