The Diplomat

Directed by David Holbrooke

The life and legacy of Richard Holbrooke, whose singular career spans fifty years of American foreign policy, is told in this documentary from Holbrooke's eldest son David.

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  • ★★★★ review by Matt Grillo on Letterboxd

    What does it mean to be a great man? We hear it mentioned throughout this documentary that Richard Holbrooke aspired to be one.

    The Diplomat is loaded with dignitaries who attest that he was, but the film itself is made by a son who almost never saw him. In giving so much of himself to his work, he was never there for his children. Is this the trade-off one must make? Can one succeed on the world stage while failing at home?

    The film doesn't answer, but these are the kinds of questions it raises in this straightforward but satisfying documentary about his life.

    The Diplomat is both a personal exploration of a son searching for a mostly absent father, and a biography of one of our most successful ambassadors. The dual format somewhat weakens the overall presentation: one can imagine both a more emotional and personal version, as well as a more hard-hitting and investigative version. As it is, it straddles a middle ground somewhere in between, with the biographical component taking a larger share.

    Overall, it works. And I learned a lot: about Holbrooke, about the intervention in the Balkans and the resolution of that conflict, and about possible diplomatic failures in the current administration. It was also interesting to see so many public figures here candid and relaxed, talking about this man they so clearly liked and admired. You hear over and over how alive and vibrant Holbrooke was. Perhaps the central weakness of the film is that we are never directly shown this. Perhaps the footage is simply not there. So much of our lives go undocumented; often, the best of us are left to simply live in the hearts and minds of others, and that may well be the case here.

    In the end, I was moved. In this increasingly fractious time, diplomacy is no less important, but the story that unfolds almost leads us to feel the figurative loss of his ideas and influence in Washington lead to his actual death. You can sense the hole left in his absence, and it is the success of the film itself that we feel this loss as it draws to a close.

    I don't think this is a universally interesting documentary, but if you have any interest in foreign affairs or politics, it's an essential watch.

  • ★★★★★ review by hugodemets on Letterboxd

    Fantastische film; ik ga hier niet veel over zeggen, want je MOET die gezien hebben als je interesse hebt in internationale politiek of diplomatie. Ik vind het ontzettend jammer dat de vredesdiplomaat van de Balkan het minder goed kon vinden met mijn andere idool, Barrack Obama, en vooral dat Richard Holbrooke zo vroeg stierf. De film werd fantastisch geregiseerd door de zoon van deze diplomaat.

  • ★★★★½ review by wusmand on Letterboxd

    I have very few people in the world that I idolize; that are major influences on how I shape my life. In fact, aside from my parents, I have only two individuals that I look up two for guiding principles.

    One of those idols is Richard Holbrooke: a career diplomat for the United States, and perhaps one of the most consequential individuals this Earth has ever produced. Mr. Holbrooke is the reason why I am interested in the Foreign Service, and he was a shining light in the political darkness.

    This documentary, directed by his son, David, gives the viewer a profound sense of what Ambassador Holbrooke stood for. What made him tick, the reasons behind his drive to do the most good for the greatest amount of people. And what is diplomacy if not that?

    This film is concise in its dialogue on Holbrooke's life, with interviews from the major power players that were influenced by his larger than life persona. People such as Secretaries of State Clinton, Albright, and Kerry. President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and Ambassador Samantha Power (my second aforementioned idol, if you were wondering). This man loomed large, and I am glad that his influence has made its way to me.

  • ★★★½ review by Jordan H on Letterboxd

    The director is a really nice guy. When we watched the film last night, apparently they forgot to add subtitles at parts... which was good to know because I just thought they were speaking English in a really thick accent!

    The film was a good documentary on someone who I knew little about originally. I like the "father-son" dynamic the director has about his subject (seeing how he was his father). If you like history documentaries or films of that sort, you're going to love this film. It's well made, well shot and the interviews are great! (The Clintons, John Kerry, etc)

    Definitely see it if you have the chance.

  • ★★★½ review by Thomas Williams on Letterboxd

    For political junkies only, The Diplomat is yet another solid documentary from HBO films. Three-and-a-half years after losing his much-absent father, filmmaker David Holbrooke has decided to interview many figures from his father's life -- Richard Holbrooke -- to get a better understanding of the man he long admired from afar as his father's political ambitions and desire to make a better world resulted in an uncommon relationship he has to piece together as his father wasn't home often -- for his children or grandchildren -- and his "job" kept him from developing the (closer) father-son relationship some share.

    Through candid interviews, discourse and discussions, a vivid portrait of a larger-than-life political figure is brought to life for an audience -- not just a son -- to better understand. Richard Holbrooke's storied careeer spanned OVER fifty years (!!!!!) of American foreign policy who got his start in Saigon before war broke out in a divided Vietnam. Holbrooke also found himself in other international hotspots like Germany in the 1980's near the end of the Cold War and Bosnia in the 1990s where he is credited for (nearly single-handedly) stopping the Balkan genocide by not backing down and never giving up on a diplomatic ending -- the Dayton Agreement (1995) -- to a brutal and bloody civil war that had broken out after the fall of Yugoslavia as Serbian "Christians" massacred Muslims by the tens of thousands in present-day Bosnia & Herzegovina through "ethnic cleansing". Years later, he was sent into Afghanistan in hopes of healing a rift between the neighboring nations of Pakistan and Afghanistan after an ill-planned war led to a political quagmire that TWO -- yes TWO -- presidential administrations were unable to fix.

    Holbrooke was egotistical and opinionated and his methods oftentimes clashed with others although he had a fine working relationship many presidential administrations. It is believed that the stress brought upon him during his final assignment in Kabul led to a premature death from an aortic dissection as he butted heads with the new Afghani administration (President Karzai) and as President Obama became more-and-more swayed by military leaders than diplomatic ones.

    Interviewees include Bill and Hillary Clinton, Henry Kissinger, David Petraeus, Al Gore, Bob Woodward, Wesley Clark, Diane Sawyer, Christiane Amanpour, Kofi Annan, Leslie Gelb, Vali Nasr, John Kerry, Bakir Izetbegovic, Ronan Farrow, Rina Amiri, Madeleine Albright, and Samantha Power. All of the preceeding had personal and working relationships with Holbrooke and testified to character and devotion to his country. Also interviewed are family members Andrew and Anthony Holbrooke and two of his three wives Larrine/'Litty' (the mother of his two sons) and the wife at the time of his death, Kati Marton.

    As noted, the documentary would most-likely be for fans of politics only as most would find it uninteresting and others who are irrationally partisan would hate just about everything in it. The Diplomat displays the thrilling and important world of diplomacy and shows audiences politics are anything but boring. Fans of politics "get it" and understand the importance of world affairs while the rest are missing out ... and it is most unfortunate that their votes have as much sway -- come-election-time -- as those of us who can talk about Richard Holbrooke or even list the current nine Supreme Court Justices of the United States.

    Diplomacy is sadly now looked upon by many across the aisle as "weak" and wonky as they believe military might is the most important thing on the global stage. People like Holbrooke realized that it is diplomacy and not war that makes a safer tomorrow for the children of today. Diplomacy also doesn't make as many people money which means decades down the road the world may only know the sounds of war ... which sound a lot like: 'ka-ching!'

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