YORK, PA - AUGUST 12: Republican Presidential Candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks at a Town Hall Meeting while on the campaign trail in the Toyota Arena August 12, 2008 in York, Pennsylvania. Over one thousand people attended the Town Hall.  (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
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YORK, PA - AUGUST 12: Republican Presidential Candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks at a Town Hall Meeting while on the campaign trail in the Toyota Arena August 12, 2008 in York, Pennsylvania. Over one thousand people attended the Town Hall. (Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 1: Cindy McCain looks on as a joint military service casket team carries the casket of the late Senator John McCain following his funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral, September 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. Former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush delivered eulogies for McCain in front of the 2,500 invited guests. McCain will be buried on Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 1: Cindy McCain looks on as a joint military service casket team carries the casket of the late Senator John McCain following his funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral, September 1, 2018 in Washington, DC. Former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush delivered eulogies for McCain in front of the 2,500 invited guests. McCain will be buried on Sunday at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. will brief the media on Tuesday, Aug. 28, at 10 a.m. EDT, in the Pentagon Briefing Room (2E973).  DAILY SCHEDULE: Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. brief the media at 10 a.m. EDT in the Pentagon Briefing Room (2E973). Both U.S. and foreign journalists without a Pentagon building pass must be pre-registered in the new Pentagon Visitor Management System to attend this briefing; plan on being escorted from the River Entrance Pedestrian Bridge or the Pentagon Metro Entrance Facility only. Please arrive no later than 45 minutes before the briefing; have proof of affiliation and photo identification. Please call 703-697-5131 for any questions and escort into the building. The briefing will also be streamed live on www.defense.gov/live.  Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis hosts an enhanced honor cordon welcoming Minister of Defense Ryamizard Ryacudu of Indonesia, to the Pentagon at 2:30 p.m. EDT on the steps of the River Entrance. All journalists desiring to cover the cordon must obtain a wristband from security screening. Journalists without a Pentagon facility access card must go through security screening at the base of the River Entrance Pedestrian Bridge, and will be escorted to the cordon from there. Security screening will begin at approximately 1:45 p.m. EDT; have proof of affiliation and two forms of photo identification. Journalists with a Pentagon facility access card, and whom have entered the building prior to 1:30 p.m. EDT, may go through security screening at the River Entrance to obtain their wristband. All journalists wishing to cover the honor cordon, including those with a Pentagon facility access card, must be in place no later than 2:15 p.m. EDT. Once security screening has been initiated at the base of the bridge, all journalists entering the building via the bridge for any reason, including those with a Pen
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Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. will brief the media on Tuesday, Aug. 28, at 10 a.m. EDT, in the Pentagon Briefing Room (2E973). DAILY SCHEDULE: Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. brief the media at 10 a.m. EDT in the Pentagon Briefing Room (2E973). Both U.S. and foreign journalists without a Pentagon building pass must be pre-registered in the new Pentagon Visitor Management System to attend this briefing; plan on being escorted from the River Entrance Pedestrian Bridge or the Pentagon Metro Entrance Facility only. Please arrive no later than 45 minutes before the briefing; have proof of affiliation and photo identification. Please call 703-697-5131 for any questions and escort into the building. The briefing will also be streamed live on www.defense.gov/live. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis hosts an enhanced honor cordon welcoming Minister of Defense Ryamizard Ryacudu of Indonesia, to the Pentagon at 2:30 p.m. EDT on the steps of the River Entrance. All journalists desiring to cover the cordon must obtain a wristband from security screening. Journalists without a Pentagon facility access card must go through security screening at the base of the River Entrance Pedestrian Bridge, and will be escorted to the cordon from there. Security screening will begin at approximately 1:45 p.m. EDT; have proof of affiliation and two forms of photo identification. Journalists with a Pentagon facility access card, and whom have entered the building prior to 1:30 p.m. EDT, may go through security screening at the River Entrance to obtain their wristband. All journalists wishing to cover the honor cordon, including those with a Pentagon facility access card, must be in place no later than 2:15 p.m. EDT. Once security screening has been initiated at the base of the bridge, all journalists entering the building via the bridge for any reason, including those with a Pen
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(CNN) —  

“John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” offers a definitive portrait of an extraordinary life, boasting extensive access to its subject as well practically as every political luminary to pass through his orbit, including three former presidents. Keenly aware that he’s nearing the end, McCain and director Peter Kunhardt have left a guide to a figure described, for good or ill, as being the most influential non-president of the last half-century.

The most striking aspect of this HBO production (whose subtitle comes from McCain’s favorite book, the Ernest Hemingway novel, and arrives along with a new memoir) is McCain’s serenity as he reflects on what he describes as “an honorable life,” for which he expresses gratitude.

“I love life, and I want to stay around forever,” he says. “But I also feel that there’s a great honor that you can die with.”

Of course, the signature period in McCain’s early biography – his time as a prisoner of war during Vietnam – hardly smacks of good fortune, including the 2 ½ years that he spent in solitary confinement, being subjected to abuse and torture.

Very little of this is new to those who have followed McCain, also profiled in a recent “Frontline” documentary. But it’s McCain’s own memories, coupled with the first-person testimonials, which elevate this to a higher level.

John McCain
Reuters/Brian Snyder/HBO
John McCain

The latter showcase the friends that McCain has made – among them Joe Biden, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham – but also the admiration he has won from political rivals. Both McCain and George W. Bush discuss their bruising 2000 primary battle without rancor – despite the dirty tricks that took place – just as Barack Obama lauds McCain for resisting the temptation and pressure to inject race into their campaign.

In what amounts to his closing arguments, McCain has already made headlines by expressing regret about selecting Sarah Palin, as opposed to Lieberman, as his running mate in 2008, a point he echoes here. If there’s a quibble one can register against Kunhardt’s presentation, it’s that the film doesn’t challenge its subject enough for his role in perpetuating the current partisan divide, despite recent high-minded rhetoric on the topic.

The documentary certainly isn’t a whitewashing, devoting considerable time to the Keating Five scandal, which threatened McCain’s Senate career and informed his push for campaign-finance reform. But it also delves into McCain’s maverick image, from the “Straight Talk Express” during his presidential run to his willingness to break with Republican Party orthodoxy, suggesting that some of his greatest failures stemmed from moments where he acted in the name of political expediency, compromising his own ideals.

Peacefully walking the dog at his Arizona home and interviewed in that tranquil setting, McCain discusses how fortunate he’s been. For a man who takes understandable pride in having weathered decades in the public arena on his own terms, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” clearly demonstrates his desire to leave on them as well.

“John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” premieres May 28 at 8 p.m. on HBO.