By Gregory Crofton
“WORMWOOD,” a new six-part documentary that premiered Friday on Netflix, feels like everything Errol Morris has been working toward his entire career.
It came about because Netflix has deep pockets, and Morris is a big and important name in world of documentary filmmakers. So Morris got the money to stretch what should have been a two-hour documentary into a four-or five-hour piece of work.
It’s something Netflix does now, starting with “Making a Murderer” back in 2015 and it continued with “The Keepers,” which premiered on the service earlier this year.
On one hand it’s satisfying to see a filmmaker such as Morris granted the budget of his dreams — enough money to film a fictional version of the story, starring Peter Sarsgaard, and weaving that into typical nonfiction documentary footage.
But while Morris’ fictional footage can be visually striking, it doesn’t take the viewer anywhere new. It really just repeats or reinforces pieces of information that are important to the story. It feels like Morris gets his chance to be “real” Hollywood filmmaker at the viewer’s expense.
In addition to the fictional reenactments, elements of the story are withheld to such an absurd extent — clearly this allows for the six-part series — you can’t help but think you’re time and attention is being handed to Netflix for no good reason.
The story is, though, a fascinating one. It’s a mystery involving the CIA back in the 1950s. The agency had been conducting experiments with LSD. One agent apparently sampled the acid and soon after jumps to his death through a closed 13th story hotel window.
Morris digs in. Famed journalist Seymour Hersh is interviewed. The agent’s son is a brilliant but obsessed man determined to find the truth about his father’s death. It’s all pretty riveting. It’s just bloated like a body found in a lake in upstate New York.