‘The Pentagon Papers’

The year in telepics

Restrained, intelligent and utterly absorbing, “The Pentagon Papers” is the rare historical drama that sticks to the facts.

FX’s crisply made historical drama elicited an agonizingly human story from a pointy-headed clash of ideals and principles. Best of all, it found that story not by goosing up events — the usual way “true story” telepics get noticed — but by observing them.

Daily Variety’s Michael Speier called it “relevant and rousing. Project showcases a complex period tautly realized by a terrific cast and crafty technique.”

Daniel Ellsberg, an analyst in the Dept. of Defense in the 1960s, staunchly believed in the U.S. war in Vietnam. That is until Pentagon chief Robert McNamara secretly commissioned an internal critical history of America’s involvement, effectively revealing the many lies the government had been telling. In 1970, a bitterly disillusioned Ellsberg leaked the classified document to the press, igniting a firestorm of controversy.

Despite an overly milked courtship between Ellsberg (James Spader) and the woman who’d become his second wife, Jason Horwitch’s script hewed closely to the historical record. He and director Rod Holcomb zeroed in on a man struggling with his conscience over the meanings of duty, honesty and patriotism, but without making him into a hero.

Spader put his naturally cool remoteness to good use in evoking Ellsberg’s alternately prickly and impressive genius. A supporting cast — from Alan Arkin as one of Ellsberg’s ex-bosses to Claire Forlani as the second wife — brought to life the complex personalities who inhabited Ellsberg’s world in that highly charged time.

In “The Pentagon Papers,” history has a pulse and you feel it.