The title of The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby suggests John le Carré-esque intrigue and personal demon-squelching, but Carl Colby’s biography is more straightforward. In it, he traces the twin narratives of his father’s career (OSS paratrooper in World War II, CIA counterinsurgency specialist in 1960s Vietnam, agency director in the mid-’70s) and family life, marked by strict Catholicism and personal tragedy. As a shorthand history of American special-ops tactics and the more public failures of the CIA, the film is is effective if dense, and the interviewees are a mix of critics, close colleagues, and apologists. But it’s most satisfying when grappling with the man, and if it can’t answer its two biggest questions—Why did Colby come so clean about the CIA’s illegal activities amid the intelligence scandals of the ’70s? And what circumstances led to his mysterious death in ’96?—it’s willing to offer grounded theories. In short: Not every man can end his war neatly.
The film shows all week at E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW. $11. (202) 452-7672.