The Vietnam war—or “conflict”, as some call it—continues to be one of the most controversial wars this country has fought, and there’s no doubt of its historical resonance when our most recent fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is repeatedly compared to it, for better or worse. The topic of the war divides people still, but a new documentary, “Last days in Vietnam” is sure to bridge at least some of the divide, if only because it steers clear of the causes of that conflict and instead focusses on the heroics of those who were there at the end, in 1975, when the Communist Vietcong forces reached Saigon, the capital of what was then South Vietnam. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary, “Last days” is a stirring, gripping retelling of the panic, fear, indecision and heroism that gripped Saigon as its fall became imminent. As the film makes clear, the unwillingness of Congress to send more money to the anti-Communist south played a large role in the inability of the South Vietnamese to defend themselves any further from the Vietcong. Was there a certain war-weariness that gripped them as well? Possibly. Whatever the case, the film shows us how the Americans still on the ground (and at sea) stepped up to the plate and did what they could for the thousands of South Vietnamese who, because they had allied themselves with the U.S., knew their lives were in mortal danger if they were caught by the invaders. Rushing and overwhelming the U.S. Embassy, the Vietnamese were ferried by helicopter and boat out of the country—an operation that involved continuous flying for some pilots of over 18 hours. “Last days” is one of those films where one is tempted to utter that “truth is stranger than fiction”—so dramatic are some of the stories told here. I highly recommend watching the longer (120 min.) version of this moving and revelatory documentary.
Posted by: David