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Last Days in Vietnam

This is my fourth documentary watched, out of the 2015 Oscar-nominated quintet, and my clear favorite so far. Director Rory Kennedy Daughter (daughter of assassinated U.S. Senator, Robert Kennedy), has done a wise thing here. She’s helmed a chronicle that focuses on a very small period of what is, most likely, the United States’ most controversial war. Of course, being that her late father and uncle (President John F.) are inextricably linked to that conflict, gives the background of this production some extra heft. Does Ms. Kennedy “cop-out” here with a myopic field of view? That’s not the way I saw it. It’s more of a zeroing in, containing pulse-pounding personal stories, and some remarkable filmed footage. You’ll be riveted.

As the final weeks of the Vietnam conflict wrap up in April of 1975, there is a mad dash to get people out, as the North Vietnamese Army advances on Saigon. With White House orders only specifying the removal of American citizens from South Vietnam, a conflict arises as to just how much risk should be taken in removing certain South Vietnamese citizens, who otherwise may end up being targeted (and possibly executed) by the North Vietnamese. As confusion and chaos swirls around the grounds of the American Embassy, “Operation Frequent Wind” is put into play, which rescues thousands of South Vietnamese via helicopter. The journey of those helicopters from Saigon to various U.S. war ships, produces some astounding archival footage.

The scenes of the U.S. military aboard those “escape ships”, pushing the helicopters into the ocean (to make room for the next one, full of Vietnamese citizens, to land) is astonishing. I’ve witnessed the still pictures in the past, but this motion picture document is incredible. And the teeming hordes of those escaping, is as compelling as the stories of the ones who failed to do so, is sobering. Ms. Kennedy has done a superb service with this story. If anything, of course, I wanted more. But I have profound appreciation of her crystallizing of this historic event. “Last Days in Vietnam” has been criticized in some quarters as a whitewash of a much more complicated tale. However, I believe its simplicity is its strength, Bravo, Rory Kennedy–I believe that Oscar should’ve been yours.

Grade:  A

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