Moynihan (NR)

Documentary 104 min. October 3, 2018
By Jordan Hoffman
If you've got Ta-Nehisi Coates and George Will singing your praises, it's fair to say you were a well-liked guy. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was what we now might call part of the “deep state.” A sociologist and statistician who crossed from academia to Washington with the Kennedy administration, Moynihan worked in advisory roles to two presidents — Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon — before becoming the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and then a four-term senator. As portrayed in the new documentary Moynihan, he had one nemesis his whole life: poverty.

Psychoanalyzing “Pat” (as everyone called him) isn't too tough. His early childhood was middle-class but his father abandoned the family, leaving behind nothing but hardship. In examining the problems of single-parent families, Moynihan discovered that, as bad as he had it, African-Americans had it worse. He penned a study that successfully nudged Johnson to more progressive racial policies.

“The Moynihan Report” leaked, however, and its blunt, paternalistic style did not sit well with many younger, left-leaning activists. The gulf between intent and syntax was a common thorn in Moynihan's side. Google his phrase “benign neglect” for more on that.

Moynihan was a fascinating and inspiring figure, so much so that even a standard documentary like this holds interest. But only very dedicated members of #TeamPat need see this love letter in a theater; streaming is fine. Moynihan does nothing wrong in Moynihan, but if half of this is true, maybe that's not so bad.
Joseph Dorman, Toby Perl Freilich Jeffrey Wright Joseph Dorman First Run Features


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