David Holbrooke’s documentary “The Diplomat,” about his father, the late, celebrated ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who died in 2010, is a rich, occasionally stirring and ultimately plaintive ode to the craft of velvet gloves, iron fists and how to point with either or both. A garrulous but often absent dad, Holbrooke had a career that spanned 50 years of foreign policy, from the hard lessons he observed as an eager foreign service officer in Vietnam, to his crowning achievement in the ‘90s securing peace in the Balkans and, lastly, his troubled efforts to replicate that success in Afghanistan/Pakistan.
The interviewees are noteworthy, from world leaders (Ashraf Ghani, Bakir Izetbegovic) to colleagues, family members and admiring journalists, including a cheeky moment when Diane Sawyer deftly flips her interview around by asking David, “How angry were you at him?” The portrait that emerges, with David on camera as a respectful but quizzical son as he pores through letters, photos, journals and audio recordings, is of a hard-driving, ambitious figure who preferred to mingle in the world and reflect reality in his diplomatic efforts rather than become trapped in a government-obfuscating bubble.
If the section on the Dayton Peace Accords is a thrilling blow-by-blow of force-backed negotiation, Holbrooke’s strained dealings with President Obama and David Petraeus make for a sobering reminder of how easily veteran voices can be shunted aside when solutions to the world’s toughest problems don’t seem so clear-eyed.
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino and on HBO beginning Nov. 2.