The Man Nobody Knew Review (Kirk Haviland)

The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby

Directed by Carl Colby

Carl Colby’s father William did not have the average 9-to-5 American job. Part quest to enlighten the masses as to exactly what his father was responsible for and part personal exploration, The Man Nobody Knew uses a multitude of historical footage to tell its story. With Carl narrating we get a series of personalized interviews, many addressing Carl directly instead of just the camera, with many important present and former government personnel and recognized historians to flesh out the history of this man.

Photo courtesy of First Run Features

Starting with Pearl Harbour and his father’s enlistment into the infantry, Carl describes the ambition his father had and sense of duty. Many years after the family finds out that William is not quite working for the employers they had in mind, when the neighbours he carpooled with noticed him leaving where he was supposedly working for somewhere else. Fearing that the Italians might be communist, Colby and clan are sent to live in Rome. Keeping his family mostly in the dark, Colby was able to use his family dynamic to ingratiate himself with the powers that be. Something he used to great advantage as he was moved to Vietnam in 1959 and became a beloved advisor to President Diem before the war started.  Leaving in 1962, Colby became an advisor for all Asian affairs in the CIA. His replacement, Henry Cabot Lodge, was the man whose actions led to the coup and assassination of President Diem and the beginning of the Vietnam War. Returning years later, in 1968, Colby instituted many programs, including the controversial Phoenix program for intelligence gathering, intended on turning the tide of the war. Phoenix ended up backfiring dramatically and making him a pariah both abroad and at home with the millions of protesters lining the streets. After returning from Vietnam in 1971 he is named Director of the CIA by Richard Nixon in 1973, unaware of the black ops occurring under Nixon’s commands including Watergate. Colby is credited with keeping all the secrets and the Intelligence agency alive and functional during these times. Colby would not end up serving as Director very long, as he was replaced by George Bush Sr.

Photo courtesy of First Run Features

The Junior Colby’s exploration into his father’s life is really a hit and miss affair. Playing out like a History Channel documentary with tons of footage, The Man Nobody Knew as a theatrical outing is very dull. While the story behind the man provides many fascinating insights, the way they play out in a standard flat style with footage and standard interviews against a plain background leaves something to be desired. Colby as a narrator does not work. Lacking emotion and using a monotone delivery and unsatisfactory blend of personal and impersonal style, Colby’s observations are blunt and sometimes completely unearned. The film’s narrative plays out more as a barely animated linear description of events than that of a storyteller trying to tell us of a fascinating character in the history of the United States Intelligence community. The lack of storytelling prowess leaves us with a dull ineffective narrative that makes the film a tough watch to get through. For a film subtitled “In search of my father” the junior Colby spends a staggering brief amount of time talking about the man over his exploits. In fact the brevity and lack of exploration shown on screen to the last 10-15 years of the senior Colby’s life leaves us as a,n audience, very unsatisfied. After seeing this type of story done so successfully earlier this year with “My Father and the Man in Black“, The Man Nobody Knew’s shortcomings are even more glaring.

While it does have some fascinating info and clips dealing with the history of the United States during some very turbulent times, as a film The Man Nobody Knew does not hold up. The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of my Father CIA spymaster William Colby is a non-recommend.

The Man Nobody Knew starts an exclusive 4-day run at the Hot Docs Bloor Cinema on Monday August 6th. Details can be found on their website schedule.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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