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Film Review: Last Days in Vietnam

The Vietnam War is a complicated era of American history that has always been subject to scrutiny. Numerous documentaries, Hollywood films, and various books have told different fictional and true stories from multiple perspectives. Its safe to say American’s are very conscious of Vietnam even though it has been almost 40 years since the war ended. This era of American history has been well documented and retold many times as a complicated and arguably tragic story.

But in this case, there is a silver lining.

Award winning documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy’s newest film, Last Days in Vietnam, focuses on the final days of the American presence before the fall of South Vietnam. Written by Mark Bailey & Keven McAlester, Last Days in Vietnam exposes a sobering reality mixed with heroism and inspiration.

Produced and directed by Kennedy, the film explores the last tumultuous years of the American presence in Vietnam. From the Paris peace accords to President Nixon’s resignation followed by President Ford’s wavering commitment, the film culminates with an exploration into the final 24 hours in Saigon before the last 6,000 American’s fled the country as it fell to the North Vietnamese.

However, it was not just Americans who were desperate to flee from the invading North Vietnamese. The story of the final 24 hours in Saigon is a simultaneously marvelous and tragic example of human compassion, desperation, miscalculation, and disaster.

While in the process of trying to evacuate Americans before the arrival of the North Vietnamese Army, tens of thousands of South Vietnamese refugees desperately attempted escape for fear that they would be arrested or killed for associating with Americans. And while official U.S. policy was only concerned with evacuating the several thousand Americans still in Vietnam, it is the heroic actions of many Americans who disobeyed orders to help their friends and allies that make this story so compelling. Coupled with the extraordinary lengths undertaken by many Vietnamese soldiers and civilians to get their friends and family to safety, it is story that can only be described as incredibly compelling.

Last Days in Vietnam is a wonderfully developed film that manages to fulfill all the necessary elements required of a good documentary while taking them to another level. The interviewees do all the storytelling rather than relying on a narrator to tie everything together, something that is an incredible source of strength for the film. The witnesses who experienced these transformative, historical events take center stage throughout the entire film thanks to the careful compilation of all their stories that create a powerful, nuanced narrative.

Regardless of your political leanings or feelings about the Vietnam War, the film is an excellent study of the history of military interventionism and the unintended, disastrous consequences that can arise from such actions. It praises the human spirit while simultaneously presenting the sobering reality that history rarely remembers without relying on cheap guilt. Kennedy’s film is strategic and poignant so that you feel the emotion of their experiences but can still process and reflect on the many outcomes, whether heroic or tragic.

Last Days in Vietnam will be screening in the Los Angeles area starting today, September 19 at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles until September 25th and the University 6 in Irvine from September 26th-October 2nd. For more information on a screening near you, visit the film’s website here.

Grade: A

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Aaron Zamora

Aaron grew up in Whittier, California and is currently finishing his master's degree in Human Communication studies from California State University, Fullerton. His interest in journalism began in high school where he served as the Editor-in-Chief for his school’s newspaper and participated in their inaugural broadcast journalism program. An avid world traveler, Aaron has a wide array of interest that include a passion for cinema and television. He is also a sports fanatic.

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