Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. Moxie Firecracker Films. USA, 2014. Screenplay by Mark Bailey, Keven McAlester. Cinematography by Joan Churchill. Produced by Rory Kennedy, Keven McAlester. Music by Gary Lionelli. Film Editing by Don Kleszy. Academy Awards 2014. National Board of Review Awards 2014.
With the Paris Peace Accords signed in 1973, a cease-fire has been confirmed between North and South Vietnam, American military presence has been removed and the war is, in effect, over; two years later, the post-Watergate resignation of American president Richard Nixon makes North Vietnam feel it is the right time to head south and invade. American ambassador Graham Martin sees no reason to panic and does not encourage American personnel in the country to leave, but the tension rises as thousands of people begin to move south in the hopes of evading the imminent catastrophe. The situation eventually becomes too dire to ignore and evacuations begin, with Martin insisting on staying until all Americans and Vietnamese citizens connected to employment by the American government are safely airlifted out of the embassy. Boats are piled with people, planes fly out but, with the bombing of the Saigon airport, the remaining evacuees are taken by some very daring helicopters who pick them up from rooftops. Despite the efforts of many uniformed men intent on saving everyone, many of whom are interviewed in this riveting documentary, the operation still ends in tragedy when the government back home orders evacuation to end but there are still over a thousand people left in the building. The moral quandary that this causes is captured beautifully by newsreel footage miraculously filmed on site and present-day interviews with the surviving members of those days who give candid testimony on film. Personal, devastating stories are juxtaposed with terrifying images, including the chaos of mass migrations, bombings, giant helicopters being pushed into the sea and a very daring chinook rescue among many others, for a film that makes a worthy, if less compliated, companion to Hearts and Minds.