Monday, January 20, 2014

Sundance Review: Last Days in Vietnam - 3 1/2 stars

This is a documentary about, well, the last days of the Vietnam War.  It tells the story of the U.S. evacuation of Saigon in 1975 as the North Vietnamese military forces advanced on Saigon. 

Using incredibly gripping footage of the event, as well as interviews with the players involved, the movie tells an incredible story.  For months, the Americans in Vietnam knew that the north was advancing.  They pleaded with the ambassador to make evacuation plans not only for them, but the thousands of South Vietnamese who worked for the Americans.  They knew that once the north took control, any Vietnamese citizen who helped the U.S. would likely be executed. 

No plans were made until it was too late.  When the evacuation started, the orders were to evacuate U.S. citizens only.  But hundreds of U.S. soldiers did everything they could to evacuate as many South Vietnamese as they could. 

I was really moved by this story.  I knew some of the general details of the Vietnam War, but I didn't know the specifics of the evacuation.  It's just amazing to see the thousands of Vietnamese people trying desperately to get into the U.S. Embassy, climbing walls and trying to bribe the guards.  The soldiers talk about the way the United States betrayed these people by leaving them to their fate.

It's not all doom and gloom, though.  There are some great stories about soldiers defying orders to get people out.  You've probably seen photos or video of helicopters landing on a ship, them being physically pushed over the side to make room for another to land.  One helicopter was too big to land, so the people had to jump out.  Then the pilot landed in the water, turned it on its right side and jumped out the left.  Amazingly, he survived.

There have obviously been plenty of books and movies made about Vietnam.  But this movie is necessary, and I'm surprised it took this long for someone to make it.

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