THE DOCUMENTARY "41"
WHEN | WHERE Thursday night at 9 on HBO
WHAT IT'S ABOUT George H.W. Bush was born June 12, 1924, became a Navy aviator at age 18, was shot down over the Pacific two years later. He later ran for Congress in Texas, then spent the balance of his career in public service, as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and China, director of the CIA, vice president under Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1989, and the 41st president from 1989 to 1992. This 2-hour, 20-minute film, backed by producer Jerry Weintraub, covers much of this.
MY SAY Of the 41st president, Weintraub recently told Politico: "I love him. He's a great friend. They don't come any better." So, yes, indeed, a love letter this is, but "41" is better than rank puffery because it also takes the full measure of Bush -- mostly by documenting a life that's been devoted to family and public service since World War II.
Moreover, Bush hasn't done much talking since leaving office; press interviews are infrequent, and there is no official biography fulminating against old enemies or dripping with what-might-have-beens. For now, this is all we've got, and -- at least on film -- maybe all we'll ever get. As a viewing experience, "41" can be a little drowsy at moments. If memory serves, Bush was rarely comfortable with fiery rhetorical flourishes -- other than "Read my lips," and we all know how that turned out.
Assuming this film is representative, the passing years have only increased his natural-born reticence. He's gently prodded to elaborate on his years at the CIA. He holds his fingers to his lips -- "Shhh. No." Can he talk "a little bit" about Ross Perot, he is later asked? "No. Can't. I think he cost me the election, and I don't like him." What, in fact, does he like -- which is really the primary focus of this film? The sea, "Bar," family, fishing, boats, Kennebunkport, dogs -- and one dog in particular. Watching "41," you are left with the distinct impression that the true essence of the man emerges from this list.
BOTTOM LINE In his own words, and pictures -- lots of the latter -- and not bad at all, though a few other words from family and friends would've helped.