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Movie Review: 'Last Days In Vietnam'

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Movie Review: 'Last Days In Vietnam'

Movie Reviews

Movie Review: 'Last Days In Vietnam'

Movie Review: 'Last Days In Vietnam'

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Director Rory Kennedy's documentary isn't an examination of the rights or wrongs of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, but a thrilling narrative told with first-person stories of the war's chaotic end.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

So we tried to get into a movie the other night but couldn't get a ticket for the one we wanted. "Last Days In Vietnam" was sold out, which probably does not surprise LA Times and MORNING EDITION critic Kenneth Turan.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: "Last Days In Vietnam," directed by Rory Kennedy, is not an examination of why we were in Vietnam or whether we should've been there in the first place. Instead, it's a thrilling narrative of what happened as the wheels started to fall off of America's involvement in that country. "Last Days" details a complete debacle that brought out the best in all kinds of people. It's filled with compelling first-person stories both heroic and heartbreaking, like the one told by U.S. Army Captain Stuart Herrington about evacuating the Vietnamese officers he worked with and their families.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM")

CAPTAIN STUART HERRINGTON: I borrowed a truck and I drove them to the airbase. And I had told them when you hear three thumps, that means hold the babies' mouths, don't breathe, don't talk, don't make any noise. I was going to get them out.

TURAN: These kinds of black ops were necessary because American Ambassador Graham Martin refused to even discuss the possibility of evacuation until the end. The film's biggest chunk gives almost hour by hour account of what took place on that final day. Perhaps the most astonishing story is what happened on the USS Kirk. Filmmaker Kennedy has tracked down a Vietnamese man who as a boy jumped out of a helicopter too large to land on the ship.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: One by one we jump out. I jumped out, my brother jumped out. My mom was holding my sister. Well, obviously we were very scared. And she just, you know, just trustingly, with one hand - with her right hand, holding on with her left to brace herself, you know, just dropped my baby sister.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: One fellow's standing there and he said he looked up and he saw this big bundle of stuff come flying out and it was a baby. It was the 1-year-old baby.

TURAN: These stranger-than-fiction tales, piled one on top of the other in the most gripping way, not only mesmerize us, they also make the point that the chaos surrounding the evacuation was the entire war in microcosm. As Captain Herrington says, promises made in good faith and promises broken. This remarkable film ensures that what happened there won't be forgotten.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and for the Los Angeles Times.

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