Each month, the Indie Prof reviews a current film in the theater and a second film that is available on DVD or an instant-streaming service.
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Last Days in Vietnam (2014)
“As we began to contemplate evacuation, the question, the burning question, was who goes? And who gets left behind?”
These scintillating words from U.S. Army Captain Stuart Herrington begin Rory Kennedy’s enlightening documentary Last Days in Vietnam. The film tells the story of South Vietnam in the years following the Paris Accords. Several thousand U.S. citizens still lived in Vietnam, however, and when the North Vietnamese began an offensive into the south toward Saigon, the U.S. had no plan for their evacuation. The Accords left open the possibility that the U.S. would go back into Vietnam if the North infringed on the South, but the U.S. had no appetite for it once the new fighting began. With no plan for evacuation, no help from Washington, and an ambassador who refused to see reality, the thousands of Americans, their families, and many Vietnamese friends and allies were left in the cold.
The story is fascinating: several military operatives took it upon themselves to start evacuating the Americans, their families, and the Vietnamese friends of the U.S. These Black Ops were illegal and were hid in plain sight. The film tells its story through interviews, extant footage, and some simple animation. While the interviews can slow down the film at times, the stunning original footage, the inspired editing, and the tense score make the story come alive. It is at once frightening and humanistic.
Director Rory Kennedy (daughter of RFK) is an experienced filmmaker, and her experience shows here. The film takes a narrative stance, and it creates tension through the natural progression of the events. There is no false tension here, no imposed manipulation. The startling reality is enough to carry the film, and it becomes more gripping as it moves along. We’ve all seen the famous picture of a helicopter precariously poised on the roof of a small building with a long line of people on a ladder below. Now we have the story of why that helicopter was there, the building on which it landed, and who got on that helicopter. That story, and the many others of our last days in Vietnam, make this film a riveting must-see. Let Oscar season begin.
You will like this film if you enjoyed One Day in September, The Fog of War, and/or The Thin Blue Line.
Starts October 3 at the Chez Artiste Theater.
Before his big star turn in Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart was considered a “third reeler.” The term was applied to actors who were killed off in the third reel of film—roughly before the last 20 minutes. The actors were B-list and played secondary parts; they were recognizable faces, but not names. Tom Hardy has been one of those actors—you know him from Inception; Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy; or Lawless. With Locke, a wonderful film from writer/director Steven Knight, and The Drop, (now playing in theaters), Hardy is moving from the B-list to the front of the list.
The story concerns a construction manager and seemingly solid family man who makes a crucial life decision on his way home one evening. Instead of turning toward home, he turns the other way. Here is a man whose life is falling apart as we watch and listen. The plot takes a little time to develop, but when it does, we are intrigued and essentially glued to the character/screen. Too much plot description would ruin the film because it’s such a simple premise. It is the delivery that fascinates. The majority of the film is of Hardy driving a car.
Director Knight is sharp with dialogue and suspense, and his other work, such as Dirty, Pretty Things; Amazing Grace; and Eastern Promises established those credentials. Locke follows in this line of gritty, unique, and visually inventive films while adding to his impressive body of work. The moving car device works because we are waiting for it to stop and yet the visuals remain kinetic. But the real attraction is Hardy—he is at once thoughtful and indifferent; tough and sweet; hard and soft. To pull off these conflicting traits is difficult, but Hardy seems to do so with ease. He is that rare actor who can inhabit a character so thoroughly that all we see is the character. Enjoy this moment—before Hardy becomes an A-list star and the romantic comedies begin.
You will like this film if you enjoyed The Hunt, Under the Skin, and/or Out of the Furnace.
Now available at Redbox or VOD. Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., teaches Cinema Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.