The densely packed, questioning documentary “The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby” is a remarkable feat of personalized biography.
Like a case officer parsing more than just facts, filmmaker Carl Colby delves into the story of his late dad’s intelligence career — World War II O.S.S. operative, stealth campaigner against Italian Communists, controversial Vietnam War strategist and finally secret-spilling CIA director during legendary 1970s congressional hearings — with a respectful yet keen eye toward the moral pitfalls of patriotic duplicity.
What emerges is a portrait long on political insight (including interviews with Brent Scowcroft, Donald Rumsfeld and countless Company men), enhanced by a rich collection of archival clips both evocative and, in the case of the Vietnam conflict, harrowing. But it’s all peppered with a familial subjectivity in the loving nostalgia and pinched dignity of Carl’s mother, Barbara, plus the director’s own hesitantly narrated memories, that hints at emotions tantalizingly unknowable.
The inscrutable bureaucrat — the slight-of-build, bespectacled Colby could have blended in at an accountants’ convention — may be a CIA cliché, but “The Man Nobody Knew” tackles that image gamely, addressing a security-paranoid nation’s covert sins with skeptical smarts and a respectful son’s understandable compassion.
“The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes. At the Nuart, West Los Angeles.