Review: Obama documentary ‘The Final Year’ gains emotional heft in the wake of the 2016 election

Then-U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power and President Obama in the documentary "The Final Year."
(Pete Souza / TIFF)

The involving, deftly assembled documentary “The Final Year,” which takes a whirlwind look at the last 12 months of President Obama’s tenure, is likely to prove quite the wistful experience for the film’s intended left-leaning audience — or Obama skeptics open to peering in the rearview mirror.

This you-are-there journey, directed by Greg Barker, was largely shot under the prevailing assumption that the 2016 U.S. presidential race was a likely lock for Hilary Clinton. That is, until that fateful November night that upended expectations, as well as the trajectory of the last part of Barker’s film.

The election’s startling results give the movie more resonance and emotional heft than it might have otherwise. A brief closing interview with Obama provides some stirring — and haunting — grace notes.

Until that point, however, Barker focuses mainly on the work of then-Secretary of State John Kerry, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power and Deputy National Security Advisor and speechwriter Ben Rhodes as they and Obama hop the globe in a ticking-clock effort to secure America’s positions on such issues as the Iran nuclear deal, peace in Syria, climate change, terrorism and immigration.


Although the film clearly supports the Obama administration and its foreign policy decisions, Barker doesn’t shy away from mentions of several of the former president’s perceived missteps.

Obama’s landmark speech in Hiroshima, his unprecedented trip to Laos, his last appearance at the U.N. General Assembly and a visit to Greece — 44’s final foreign stop as president — are memorably covered as well.

The film also takes us inside the West Wing, plus international conference rooms, private jets and, perhaps most pivotally, a gathering of iconic women, including Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright, as they, along with Power, watch the presidential election returns in creeping disbelief.

And could there be a more appropriate song to play over the movie’s end credits than “The Times They Are A-Changin”?


‘The Final Year’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino

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