Focus Features
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Dawn Porter
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/11/20
Opens: September 18, 2020

This vivid, colorful documentary, some scenes filled with heartbreak and compassion, others with humor and joie de vivre, is as much about the photographer and the way he sees it as about the Presidents that he photographs. Pete Souza, a world-class photographer with a personality to match, is seen here as the chief shutterbug who has spent much of his career almost literally by President Obama’s side. He captures iconic images of Obama, a man he obviously considers not only a good friend but a hero, and adds pungency to the tale by comparing the dignified African-American leader with his ideological and extra-large small man who followed and who thinks nothing of anybody but himself and perhaps his immediately family.

The two million folks who follow Souza on Instagram might be familiar with a previous look of the lenser in the National Geographic 2010 movie “The President’s Photographer,” but while that excellent treatment deals with previous photographers as well, “The Way I See It” gives short shrift to Souza’s predecessor, President Reagan, in order to concentrate more fully on the wonderful personality of the man behind the lenses.

No sooner does Souza state that he believes empathy to be the most important emotion of a national leader than we reflexively see that this is a guy who has no use for Donald J. Trump. This movie comes out just a hop, skip and jump after the publication of the photographer’s book “Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents,” which, put simply, sets up two columns. In one lie the hateful tweets of the incompetent bozo now in the White House, a loser who, thanks to the Electoral College was put into office despite being behind Hillary Clinton by 2.8 million votes, with Barack Obama. In fact commenting on the décor in the White House, Souza notes that he “like [s] the old drapes better than the new ones.” Therein lies a clever metaphor by which Souza “dropped shade,” which is to say disrespecting the current resident in the Oval Office, and changed him from being a fly on the wall, albeit a highly talented one, to becomes an outspoken photo-journalist.

Director Dawn Porter, whose “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” about the late member of the House of Representatives from Georgia embracing his sixty years fighting for civil rights, immigration reform and gun control, gives President Obama much of her time in moving picture images but allows Pete Souza to hold forth in a Madison, Wisconsin speech before a packed audience, with many of his favorite photos on the screen. Motion picture imagery aside, Souza makes the point that there is still a need for still photos, hopefully riveting the viewer on key moments in a President’s eight years. One shot that would impress even high school pupils who give the impression that they’ve “seen it all” finds Obama playing a one-on-one basketball game with Reggie Love, former professional athlete and then Obama’s “body man.” Imagine Obama’s pleasure when he discovers that Souza captured his block of his opponent, ordering that it be blown up and signed by Love.

While Ms. Porter uses motion picture film of the dramatic moment when Nancy Pelosi banged the gavel to announce to the House of Representatives that the Affordable Care Act had passed, she finds the former President’s empathy best illustrated in shots showing him shedding genuine tears while hugging the parents of the twenty children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Porter, who in her own medium performs a service as important as Souza’s, highlights the moment during his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, killed at the Charleston church shooting, that Obama says “Amazing Grace” twice, then connects with the vast audience by singing the song.

This is a deeply moving film, one filled with tears and smiles, pathos and laughter, a paean to a President, his photographer, and moments in history which, thanks greatly to still photographs, will never be forgotten.

100 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A
Overall – A-

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *