REVIEW: Last Days in Vietnam

14 02 2015

Last Days in VietnamUsually at the end of a high school AP U.S. History class, a teacher rushes to cram in everything after World War II as if a conflict like the Vietnam War were merely a footnote to the American story.  (Just for the record, I loved my junior year history teacher and blame the date of the AP exam, not him.)  If that period had some more time allotted for coverage, Rory Kennedy’s documentary “Last Days in Vietnam” would probably be a staple in those classes.

Her film chronicles the closing chapter of American presence in the region, beginning broadly and then focusing with laser-like precision on the final evacuations of Saigon.  She gathers quite an authoritative bunch of interviewees to talk about their experience, and each can recount what happened with a truly impressive amount of detail.  Watching “Last Days in Vietnam” thus feels like reading a well-written tome of historical literature.

The richness does overwhelm the story as a piece of cinema, though.  For nearly 100 minutes, the film stays mostly compelling yet sags a little bit under the weight of all the minutiae towards the end of the film.  Of course, a film called “Last Days in Vietnam” is going to spend most of its runtime focused on the closing ticks of the clock.  But Kennedy might have tightened up and prioritized all these narrative threads, lest we check the time ticking away on her own film itself. B2halfstars