Synopsis: During the chaotic final weeks of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army closes in on Saigon as the panicked South Vietnamese people desperately attempt to escape. On the ground, American soldiers and diplomats confront the same moral quandary: whether to obey White House orders to evacuate U.S. citizens only–or to risk treason and save the lives of as many South Vietnamese citizens as they can.
Director: Rory Kennedy
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: Though it may seem to some like a horrifying distant memory in this era of the Iraq War and Operation Freedom, the Vietnam War remains a singular event in our history that has provided the basis for countless books, movies, media pieces, testimonials, and documentaries.
The latest entry is Rory Kennedy’s Oscar nominated look into the harrowing final days when much effort was spent on getting Americans out of the line of fire as the North Vietnamese Army blazes a trail into the heart of Saigon. With American men and women that have made a life and have families in the country, the question becomes who gets to be the first to leave and how do they keep their families together when protocol might tear them apart?
Kennedy’s documentary is an action-movie unto itself, seeped in political maneuvering and last minute decisions that cause ripple effects among the crowds that climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy desperate for a seat on the helicopters that would bring them to safety. For the South Vietnamese, to stay would mean certain death so every angle is explored/exploited in their attempts to flee their fallen city.
The first-hand accounts Kennedy has captured here are powerful in their recounting of this period of history and it’s clear that, like the returned soldiers haunted by memories of death and war, these are memories that are blazed into the minds of the interviewees. From top political players to the Vietnamese on the ground, Kennedy’s subjects aren’t presented in “us” or “them” sub-categories but as eye witnesses to the event that forms the center of the documentary: 24 hours of rescue missions recounted in great detail from helicopter pilots in the air and young soldiers doing their duty. These are stories of heroism in a time of conflict, showing that war didn’t fully sever our hearts from our heads.
With war documentaries available in full force to meet any of your historical needs, each new film has to have its purpose and focus to set itself apart from the crowd. With her famous political lineage very much on the mind of the viewer, Kennedy (Bobby and Ethel’s daughter) has a voice that’s clearly heard. Though focused on the last days in Vietnam, the documentary wisely shows how this time period was the start of something new.