'The Diplomat': Film Review

Courtesy of HBO

An informative if less than thrilling account of a historic career.

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke's career, seen through the eyes of his son.

A son's attempt to understand the esteem so many of the world's leaders had for his late father, David Holbrooke's The Diplomat chronicles the high points of ambassador Richard Holbrooke's career. Though it touches on a low point or two as well, this is not the film to look to for critical inquiry about, say, America's late-'70s involvement in East Timor. Sometimes dry, the admiring if not wholly rose-colored doc will sit in the shadow of such higher-profile titles as Going Clear on the current HBO doc menu.

Acknowledging that his "intense and complicated" father rarely discussed work with him, the younger Holbrooke goes to a long string of journalists, friends and politicians to explain his eventful career. Though the film understandably stretches out the most in recalling his stint as America's envoy to the Balkans, which culminated in the Dayton Peace Accords, it is most engaging when describing the genesis of this diplomatic career, when Holbrooke went straight from college into the foreign service in Vietnam. There, he wrote a journal in the form of letters to the woman who would be his first wife (and David's mother); these have more flavor than passages from his published memoir To End a War, which we hear much of later.

The film skips past large chunks of Holbrooke's career, but it does acknowledge the disappointments of his last engagement, as special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hillary Clinton, who clearly liked Holbrooke, puts the best face on efforts that helped many civilians even without leading to Dayton-like breakthroughs. But in a film full of famous interviewees ranging from Bob Woodward to Henry Kissinger, the one who would really be crucial in shedding light on this period, Barack Obama, is conspicuously absent.

Production companies: Giraffe Partners, Stacey Reiss Productions

Director-Screenwriter: David Holbrooke

Producers: Stacey Reiss, Nancy Abraham

Executive producers: Scott Berrie, Tom Freston, Barbara Gundlach, Andrew Gundlach, Marshall Sonenshine, Louis Venezia, Sheila Nevins

Director of photography: Adam Vardy

Editor: Seth Bomse

Music: Graham Reynolds

No rating, 103 minutes

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