Pentagon Papers (2003)

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Released 7-Jun-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller None
Rating ?
Year Of Production 2003
Running Time 87:55
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 4 Directed By Rod Holcomb

Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring James Spader
Claire Forlani
Paul Giamatti
Alan Arkin
Kenneth Welsh
Maria Del Mar
Sean McCann
James Downing
Richard Fitzpatrick
Jonas Chernick
Amy Price-Francis
Aaron Ashmore
George R. Robertson
Case ?
RPI ? Music Normand Corbeil

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Danish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The Pentagon Papers centres around Daniel Ellsberg (James Spader), an ex-Marine officer with a PhD in strategic studies working for the government think-tank known as the RAND Corporation during the escalation of the war in Vietnam. When he is appointed to be the personal aide to the Secretary of Defense, John McNaughton (Kenneth Welsh), Ellsberg becomes concerned about the conflicting casualty reports and lack of credible intelligence coming out of South East Asia.

    In an attempt to get to the bottom of things, he travels to Vietnam as an observer and witnesses the horror of the war first hand. While still convinced that America is doing the right thing, he works on a Top Secret paper detailing the history of America’s involvement in the escalation of the war. But after he reads all 47 volumes of the report, he is exposed to the truth and finds his convictions faltering.

    As a TV movie, will all the limits inherent therein, this works exceptionally well and makes the viewer lament the fact that this was drawn together on a limited budget to fit a particular timeslot. If this had been put together with an extensive script and the directing talents of someone like Michael Mann this could have been as good as The Insider, if not better.

    As it stands, The Pentagon Papers is a well executed if somewhat flawed movie limited by its intended format. Spader does a very good job, although I felt that if anything Claire Forlani outshone him as Patricia Marx, the wealthy heiress with a conscience. The directing by Rod Halcomb is good within the confines of the format, and a nice job was done creating the jungles of Vietnam on a tighter budget than a Hollywood blockbuster. Certain camera and lighting effects helped, but you still knew you were watching a TV movie the whole way. The FX were a particular giveaway, with the obvious blue-screen shots at Ellsberg’s beach house seeming quite jarring.

    Anybody who has, like me, attempted to delve into the Pentagon Papers themselves will definitely take something away from this film. And those of you who enjoyed The Insider and All The President’s Men will also likely enjoy this. It lacks the force of books like Neil Sheehan’s A Bright Shining Lie (which was also turned into a TV movie), but the story of The Pentagon Papers is even more relevant today and for that reason I am putting this on the highly recommended list. Definitely worth a rent.

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Transfer Quality


    Presented in 1.29:1, Full Frame, non-16x9 enhanced, given that this was produced for television I would assume that this is the original aspect ratio.

    The picture quality is very good and well detailed, if perhaps a little soft. The alternations between colour and black & white were handled well, as were the switches between the intentionally grainy film stock used for the scenes in Vietnam and the glossy film stock for the scenes done Stateside.

    Colour is reasonably well balanced, but not always exceptionally saturated. The black and white footage is obviously originally shot on colour film and had the colour removed later to a greyscale image.

    There are no glaring MPEG artefacts and only some minor aliasing and background moire as film-to-video transfer artefacts.

    There is a little bit of dirt and the odd hair here and there, but nothing overly distracting in the way of film artefacts.

    Subtitles are available in Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Swedish. They are white with a black border and stick fairly close to the original dialogue.

    This is a single-sided, single-layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are three soundtracks available – the original English, and two audio overdubs, one in Italian, one in Spanish, all in 2.0 Dolby Surround. The foreign tracks were fine, although lacking in some ambience.

    As for the original English, dialogue is always clear and easy to understand. Some of the black and white interview scenes with Ellsberg exhibited some minor audio sync problems, but they were only minor and not prolonged.

    The score by Normand Corbeil plays well with the on screen action. It has a decent range but the surround field always feels like more of a stereo field.

    There were some left-right directional cues, but the surrounds went largely unutilised.

    Sadly, there is no subwoofer use.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    All menus are presented in 1.33:1, non-16x9 enhanced, static and silent.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Aside from the NTSC/PAL formatting and the region coding, the R1 release is identical.

    The IMDB has this listed with a running time of 110 minutes but I cannot confirm if the R4 release has been censored. The R1 DVD release does not appear to have a longer running time.


    The Pentagon Papers is a highly engrossing drama that was much better than I originally thought it was going to be, made all the more potent by the current happenings in world affairs. Highly recommended.

    Video is quite good although somewhat limited by its TV origins.

    Sound is acceptable for a 2.0 Dolby Surround mix. But in all honesty, without a broader visual canvas, a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is not really necessary.

    The absence of any extras was a wasted opportunity as this was such a controversial thing at the time, and I am sure plenty of commentators would have something to say about it.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Edward McKenzie (I am Jack's raging bio...)
Friday, August 06, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DVD-RV31A-S, using S-Video output
DisplayBeko 28" (16x9). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationMarantz SR7000
SpeakersEnergy - Front, Rear, Centre & Subwoofer

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