Errol Morris's murky, evening-long epic Wormwood is the kind of true-crime documentary where you just know someone will pronounce, in the final hour or so, "For me, part of the story is that you can't tell the story." From the opening minutes, which imagine with a dreamer's intensity the purported 1953 suicide of Frank Olson, a CIA operative, it's clear that Morris and his interviewees will not come to any resolution. This is a story about coverups and conspiracy, one whose mysteries can't be illuminated without some fictionalization -- but that fictionalization here too often takes over.

Olson, a biochemist specializing in biological warfare, soared out a 10th-story window of Manhattan's Hotel Statler in 1953. The death was ruled a suicide spurred by a nervous breakdown. Two decades later, a commission led by Nelson Rockefeller released a report about the intelligence community's abuse of the public trust. Among its findings: The CIA's Project MKUltra, a study in mind control, had dosed citizens and operatives with LSD. Officials soon cited the drug in Olson's death, claiming a bad trip had inspired him to throw himself out the window.

Morris' film dramatizes Olson's last days between interviews with Olson's son Eric and journalists and lawyers who have taken the case as a cause. Over Wormwood's four hours, a theory emerges: Eric Olson sees the MKUltra explanation as a coverup of an execution.

As always, Morris, a one-time private investigator, is a superb interviewer, and no documentarian so adeptly edits the testimony of his or her subjects. But his dramatizations too often reveal little except how hard it can be to fill six streaming episodes of 40-plus minutes each.


  • Errol Morris


  • Peter Sarsgaard
  • Molly Parker
  • Christian Camargo
  • Scott Shepherd
  • Tim Blake Nelson
  • Bob Balaban

Wormwood is not showing in any theaters in the area.

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