Watching The Final Year, it’s easy to overlook its real life when you compare it to the turmoil we’re observing at the top of the US political system right now. Occasionally, it feels like an episode of The West Wing but this is due to in-depth coverage, insight and (again) feels like a long, long time ago. However, the spectres of ‘now’ are confidently thrown aside once we meet Obama on camera and the team around him because you’re struck by how committed they are to get as many positive changes implemented before they’re replaced by, at that point, whoever will replace them at the end of their term.
If you’re cynical enough to think The Final Year is liberal or democrat propaganda, then you’re mistaken because when it comes down to the truth, Greg Barker’s documentary isn’t really about politics or parties, it’s about people trying to do the right thing. While it does highlights their hard work, the film celebrates people in power who are trying to make the right changes for the citizens who voted them in and even the lives of those who haven’t right across the globe.
As we delve inside that year of Obama’s presidency, the team we’re introduced to are Ben Rhodes (Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting), John Kerry (Secretary of State), Samantha Power (United States Ambassador to the United Nations), and Susan Rice (National Security Advisor). What’s clear is although Obama may be the focal point, the he’s assembled over the years all have rudimentary, set beliefs that work in tandem with one another. The structure of progression and thought are focused on the same, hopeful, eventual outcomes. Think of the group as a hive mind of doing what’s right for your fellow human being and because Obama clearly trusts each individual implicitly, they’re also out there travelling the world to share his vision, which is also seemingly theirs.
What’s unusual about The Final Year is the somewhat nostalgic view that occurs as a viewer because we’re very aware of the Trump era that’s currently saddled into power. Whilst with Trump everything is about him, it can be difficult to remember good changes that happened before it all. The media enjoy concentrating on his Twitter antics and over-the-top reactions but that’s all a show, it’s not real, and it takes away the bigger picture of America as a force for something powerful and progressive.
So it’s important not to distract ourselves with Trump because what we see in the year before, the final year was how passionate people can be behind politics. When you watch the inspirational Samantha Power, who travels worldwide to help the fight for women’s rights, or John Kerry (who was a war vet and also marched to stop it) and his endless desire to stop war through diplomacy, you see genuine reasons to get involved and that’s actually Obama’s legacy; to inspire the younger generation to be leaders and make a constructive, long term impact.
Barker’s The Final Year demonstrates that the best leaders are thinking about the country they’re in charge of on a world scale, rather than themselves. It also highlights the significance of an experienced, intelligent team around you and to delegate the right choices. Rhodes also comments that maybe we have to go through the tough times that’ll follow their leadership to let the younger generation come through and change it. If what we witness here is even a small part of their legacy, then the future is so very bright.