It’s tricky to review The Ambassador, because no matter how many flaws I name, it’ll all seem like small potatoes for Danish journalist/filmmaker Mads Brügger.
The doc follows Brügger as he pulls off an enormous and dangerous undercover endeavour – to pose as a Liberian diplomat in order to get his hands on blood diamonds from mines with illegal protocols.
The documentary has an unbelievably risky premise and a compelling trailer, but Brügger’s documentation comes up short. Brügger insists on being personal with his filmmaking giving us a detailed understanding of how much set-up there had to be in order to pull this off – which is much appreciated. But, the doc moreso talks every detail at us at a fast speed and doesn’t offer much background in regards to our lead journalist – which is unfortunate.
For the first third of the film, we see an abundance of footage of Brügger sitting down with important contacts who legitimately think he is a businessman. In order to record the conversations, Brügger has utilized hidden cameras in sneaky spots offering us a front row seat – if an obscured one – of what is being talked about and what papers need to be signed. How he was able to use this footage with unblurred faces in his documentary is beyond me.
The execution and explanation may take audiences through the procedure step-by-step, but it’s a snooze fest. A lot of information is shot at us proving that the film wants us to walk away with new knowledge about the shadiness that lies in diamond mining, but it’s hard to comprehend due to it being edited in such a quick, slapdash manner.
As for Brügger? Because he doesn’t want to blow his cover, Brügger stays quiet and puffs away on his cigar when he isn’t asking questions. It’s a portrayal that worked well for him, but it’s terribly boring to watch.
I’m sure Brügger kept his original vision for the doc in mind, but it’s understandable that he wasn’t thinking about screen presence or camera framing issues when his life was in constant peril during this exercise.
Once audiences wake up and Brügger has a more hands-on experience with finding diamonds, The Ambassador gets scary and fascinating. You can’t help but be perplexed as you watch him get as far as he does. What’s even more tense is when Brügger has to face complications. There are plenty of hiccups along the way to where Brügger wants to take his undercover study – twists he certainly wasn’t prepared for. Moviegoers will be sweating in their seats.
But, alas, The Ambassador hurls more info our way through skewed camera angles and ends up falling too often in those pitfalls. It ultimately dampens the impact of his journalism.
That said, Brügger couldn’t have filmed his doc any other way without blowing his cover. It maybe implies that this would’ve made a better PBS mini-series than a full length film. Maybe in chunks, this undercover process would’ve been more digestible leading to an incredible climax.
Mads Brügger is a skilled, brave journalist who will go to great lengths for his work. I admire him for that. He shouldn’t quit his day job.