Under the original guise of a TV special, Robert McNamara sat down to do an hour-long interview with Errol Morris, a brilliant documentarian who has presented subjects as diverse as pet cemeteries, topiary gardeners and naked mole rats. That hour turned into 20, and in the face of Morris’ Interrotron, a camera that allows the subject to look directly into the lens, he appears to be confessing. The resulting documentary, “The Fog of War,” is a fascinating look at a man coming to grips with his role in literally millions of deaths.

McNamara came of age punching up bombing statistics during World War II and eventually became Kennedy’s unlikely and much-maligned choice for secretary of defense. At the age of 85, he is fantastically sharp, recalling events with crystalline clarity. A true product of Cold War politics, he can seem brutally honest while clearly doling out measured responses to Morris, never tipping too much of his hand. As such, he is an anachronism, but surprisingly free of the condescension of say… Donald Rumsfeld.

His account of events during the tenuous days of the Cuban Missile Crisis reads differently than the “brave men save the world” scenario. Clearly retaining great respect for John F. Kennedy, he also makes the point that complete annihilation was avoided by dumb luck. His description of Gen. Curtis LeMay is less than flattering. The inspiration for the Buck Turgidson character in “Dr. Strangelove” is painted as a war monger who possessed a fatalistic desire to use those exploding bombs we had been working so hard on. Later, McNamara considers coldly that if World War II had ended differently, both he and LeMay would have been charged with war crimes for their roles in the fire bombings of Japan.

Even for the viewer disinterested in the subject matter, the visuals are stunning and Phillip Glass’ dramatic score sets the right tone for the proceedings. However, it would be hard not to see the relevance to contemporary events. The movie’s 11 subject headings serve as a warning that war is basically senseless and that seeing and experiencing may completely deceive your decision-making capabilities when it comes to something so profoundly nebulous.

At one point, Morris interjects to paraphrase McNamara, saying “people believe what they want to believe,” in response to a section in which we learn that the heightening of U.S. involvement in Vietnam came after sonar detected a torpedo attack – a torpedo attack which never actually happened. This one sentence could serve as a synopsis for every film Morris has made, including his brilliant explorations of criminal justice and capital punishment in “The Thin Blue Line” and “Mr. Death,” respectively. He has made a career of showing the ways men play god on this earth, ignoring their basic inability to understand complete truths. Behind his films looms this question: How do we feel comfortable delegating life and death decisions to people as fallible as ourselves?

An ironic postscript is that McNamara laments Morris’ excising his post-political position as head of the World Bank. Certainly, there is a whole new documentary to be made about this chapter, but whether his place as a key architect of globalization would vindicate his character in the eyes of detractors is dubious.