When Dad's Working for the CIA: A Son's Portrait in The Man Nobody Knew


The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby
Directed by Carl Colby
First Run Features
Opens September 23
Lincoln Plaza
With a chewy title to tip us off, director Carl Colby’s compelling and tricky portrait of his late pop streamlines and connects two vital relationships—one familial, the other between a man and his country. A former OSS officer who parachuted into Nazi terrain, the wiry and unassuming William Colby was a stealthy fella who rose to become director of the CIA, his influential legacy fraught with hand-dirtying operations in far-flung war zones. So why did the ultra-secretive creator of the Phoenix Program, a divisive Vietnam counter-insurgency scheme, get himself easily ousted for admitting to illegal intelligence operations in front of a Congressional committee in the mid-’70s? Was he really in the hot seat, or was he feeling morally conflicted? Colby the younger has his own ideas and agenda regarding his absentee dad (who mysteriously drowned many years later after divorcing and starting a new family), but he shrewdly keeps his voiceover to a succinct, dull roar. Instead, vintage photos and footage are paired with top-tier talking heads such as Bob Woodward, Donald Rumsfeld, a wide array of high-clearance personnel, even the filmmaker’s mom. Respectful, loving, but never lionizing, Carl’s thorough investigation transcends his personal catharsis to become an enduring treatise on how character flaws affect policy.
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The language of this review is condescending and in its short length, more than once lacking the proper punctuation. Also, the final line of the review is so far off the mark in terms of what the doc is actually about, I question whether the reviewer ever saw the film. The film is a "thorough investigation" and fair. I'm not sure it's even all that "loving." I think it's about as objective a portrait of a man as you could possibly hope to expect from his son. The film at no point bridges William Colby's personal life or "character flaws" with policy. The film paints a portrait of a man who was entirely dedicated to his career and his country, and ultimately far less dedicated to his family. (Those two being very separate dealings throughout.) The film never points to flaws in Colby's character professionally. It reveals some of the strangling situations he found himself in; some for which he was directly responsible and some merely circumstantial. It seemed to me that the guy was a hell of a soldier. What he was not was a hell of a husband or father, and maybe a bit too Catholic to be the best politician when he needed to be to save his own job.


I really liked this documentary and the above comments are right on. This documentary was a very objective view of a man of his time. Mr. Colby no doubt loved his county, was honorable in his duty to country, but he was a mess in his personnel life. I put what was best for his country above saving his job.


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