Combustible Celluloid
With: Pete Souza, Patti Lease, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes, Lillian Souza, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Ferial Govashiri, Alice Gabriner
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Dawn Porter
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Running Time: 100
Date: 09/18/2020

The Way I See It (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Photo Finish

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

While it feels a bit thin and lopsided, the documentary The Way I See It is still very much worth seeing for several reasons: its collection of amazing photographs, Souza's humility, and its positive, hopeful vision.

In The Way I See It, photographer Pete Souza tells the many chapters of his life story. He moved quickly from working for newspapers to becoming the official White House photographer under President Ronald Reagan, from 1983 to 1989. He went back to journalism, and was assigned to follow the rising career of the young senator Barack Obama.

This led to him, once again, becoming the official White House photographer. The origins of many iconic photos are discussed, and the ins and outs of the profession. But after Obama's two terms ended, Souza's star really took off as he took to Instagram, posting Obama photos to sharply contrast with the behavior of President Trump, with whom Souza vehemently disagrees.

Directed by Dawn Porter, who also gave us the essential John Lewis: Good Trouble, The Way I See It could have gone deeper. It's clearly partisan and likely not a timeless work; Souza — and several other interviewees — talk as often, or more often, about their opposition to Trump than about anything personal in Souza's life. His portraits of Reagan and Obama behaving in ways that are presidential and professional are used to sharply contrast Trump's more haphazard, deceptive way of governing.

But what the movie lacks in personal details, it makes up for in Souza's up-front candidness. In talking about his life and his good fortunes, he frequently chokes up and gets teary-eyed. A sequence in which Obama badgers Souza into marrying his longtime girlfriend will cause huge smiles and require a few hankies. Souza wears his heart on his sleeve, and his deep love and respect for Obama and the office of the president comes out clearly, just like his fury that that same office has been soured and sullied.

As a huge coffee-table book in motion, The Way I See It beautifully showcases Souza's best photos, as he explains their origins. These depictions of kindness, intelligence, and empathy offer hope that the White House could be like that again one day.

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