Documentary Review | The Final Year Chronicles Obama’s Last 12 Months From Within the White House

Ah, remember those halcyon days when the President of the United States of America was a humble and well-meaning man of small beginnings? Yeah, me neither, but Barack Obama at least came close. For the entire legacy the Office of its President of the United States has been fraught with controversy. Lincoln was a racist, Kennedy masterminded multiple secret wars and Obama ordered countless drone strikes. They’re considered three of the best Presidents and each one has attempted to heal the negative effects of their predecessors’ legacy.

Documents are essential to a Presidential legacy. Richard Nixon’s self-authored books helped him salvage what remained of his tattered reputation after Watergate. And so it is with Greg Barker’s The Final Year. An account of President Obama’s final year looking almost exclusively at his foreign policy Barker’s film does little to make Obama seem like any less of a decent man stuck in the world’s hardest job. And rightly so, because Obama’s attempts at global healing and reconciliation are one of the better parts of his presidency.

Barker follows four of the President’s key cabinet members in 2016, the final year of the Obama administration. Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes and the US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power all feature heavily intercut with rushed but no-less affecting interviews with the man himself. Barker travelled with these various figures from Greenland to Nigeria to Japan documenting the hard and painful work needed to build a sustainable future.

Various issues from climate change to past American war crimes to the ongoing conflict in Syria rear their ugly heads throughout the documentary. Each one is more affecting than the last and all are shot in different ways by cinematographers Martina Radwa and Erich Roland. Power’s meeting with the mothers of the Boko Haram girls is up close and personal and feels claustrophobic. The solemn footage of the Hiroshima memorial along with multiple shots of cheap prosthetic limbs carved for those crippled by unexploded American ordinance in Laos stand out stark in their silence and length.


The Final Year is by no means a reminder of better times and errs on the side of caution in portraying Barack Obama as a peacemaker as opposed to the leader of the corporate war machine most American governments have been, and still are. It sadly reflects on the failures of the Syrian ceasefire as well as Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton. Rhodes stutters in disbelief at the loss while Power and Kerry see all they have wrought in Syria turned to ruins by a tragic mistake. But like their visibly aged leader, they press on knowing that one milestone is nearly passed but that there are many more to follow.

The Obama legacy is one of hope. It always has been. The idea that change, improvement and progress are good and achievable goals have always been at the forefront of the Obama administration. The film ends with photos of Obama, a relatively tall man, dwarfed by the Egyptian Pyramids and the Greek Parthenon before segueing into shots of the outgoing President meeting children. The message is clear: we must learn from our past while investing in our future.

The Final Year is in cinemas from Friday 19th January.

Featured Image Source