Monday, March 20, 2023

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    ‘Year One: A Political Odyssey’ Review: Biden by the Numbers

    With the even keel of an official chronicle, the documentary “Year One: A Political Odyssey,” by the director John Maggio, sets down an account of diplomacy during President Biden’s first 365-plus days in office. The selective overview is mostly recounted by administration officials, with the New York Times correspondent David E. Sanger acting as a valuable guide throughout.

    Underlining Biden’s international, alliance-building outlook, the focus is on efforts to reckon responsibly with the power plays of Russia, China and Afghanistan. Key figures including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Jen Psaki, the former White House press secretary (but not Biden), sit down for sober interviews that feel like a well-sourced recap. Some crises are less frequently referenced now (the SolarWinds hack); others still loom (Russia’s war on Ukraine).

    We’re reminded that Biden took office in the still-shellshocked aftermath of Jan. 6, 2021, promising a vital return to normalcy and democracy after the presidency of Donald Trump. His Covid vaccination achievement was followed that summer by a one-two punch: the rise of coronavirus variants and the fall of Afghanistan. But the chaotic unfolding of events in Afghanistan yielded lessons for responding to the run-up of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

    Yet the movie is quiet on domestic policy apart from the pandemic, while covering several international summits. And despite the insider access, intriguing tidbits — like how leaks kept Sanger informed about U.S. intelligence on Russia — will be few to anyone who has been reading the news. The film’s skimping on economic and social issues echoes one description of Biden’s own messaging by some pundits: low-key to the point of obscuring the full picture of his efforts.

    Year One: A Political Odyssey
    Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. Watch on HBO Max.

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