Director Greg Barker’s The Final Year is a documentary that archives the last year of former president Barack Obama, specifically covering the key players in his foreign policy team. It also accounts for the then-upcoming 2016 election and the effect it will have on the legacy the Obama team hoped to leave.


The Final Year begins with a brief montage of Obama’s emergence as a public figure during John Kerry’s 2004 Democratic convention. Soon, the film fast-forwards into 2016, with Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, and National Security Adviser Susan Rice. As the movie progresses, it presents an inside look at the inner workings of Obama’s administration, showing the aforementioned people within it work independently on their own issues as well as collaborate together, sometimes disagreeing on how to proceed. Throughout the film, they all discuss their respective jobs and the issues they face.

Barker and his crew purely observe the White House, however; they don’t confront it on its positions, instead offering a sympathetic overview of its final year under Obama. And, unfortunately, the film’s duration of one-and-a-half hours isn’t nearly enough to adequately cover the wide array of topics faced, including (but certainly not limited to) rising tensions with Syria and Russia. We rapidly shift between the numerous areas, all of which are material meaty enough to be given their own dedicated documentaries, and the viewer is left feeling like only the surface has been skimmed.


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Another reality looming over the Obama administration throughout 2016 was the then-upcoming election, which could potentially jeopardize all of the work and progress it achieved. Passing mentions are made to the forthcoming election, but the mentions become more pronounced as the big day draws near. Early on skepticism surrounded Donald Trump’s prospects at winning, with Rhodes admitting at the film’s halfway point that he doesn’t consider a Trump win a possibility.

But as we, the audience, know how that day unfolded, it does cast a melancholy shadow over Obama’s final year. We’re given a look at the White House’s visibly devastated mood on election night, especially as several women who’ve worked in the government were invited to watch Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton win and finally break the glass ceiling. Rhodes, on his end, seemed to be hit the hardest; he walked outside and was quite literally unable to speak upon witnessing confirmation of Trump’s victory.

The final section of the film is meant to invoke a sensation of hope and optimism, however; Obama himself talks about how progress isn’t always delivered in a straight line, but the trend lines always skew to the positive. We also witness portions of his final visit to Greece, wherein he philosophically discusses the history of democracy.

The Final Year’s bonus features are lacking – 14 minutes of additional footage, where we continue to see Obama and his team work at home and aboard, is the standout, with a gallery of images and the film’s theatrical trailer being the only other features of note.

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