Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 1984
Directed by
Roland Joffe
136 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Killing Fields

The Killing Fields, an account of the U.S. involvement in Cambodia in the Nixon-era 1970s, was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay (by Bruce Robinson writer/director of Withnail And I, who also wrote Joffé’s Shadow Makers,1989) In the year in which Amadeus took out all the majors, it won a Best Supporting Actor for Haing S. Ngor’s performance as Dith Pran along with Chris Menges’ photography and Jim Clark’s editing. Despite its commendable conscience-pricking agenda it is a film that perhaps because Joffé was making his directorial debut allows the seams of its fabrication to be to evident.

In the lead Sam Waterston plays Sydney Schanberg, a reporter working for the New York Times covering the fall of the United States-backed Lon Nol regime in its civil war with the Communist Khmer Rouge forces and who would eventually win the Pulitzer Prize for his work. Waterston is serious and earnest but hardly compelling and his relationship with Pran, his devoted Cambodian assistant is not particularly well developed. It is simply given at the outset and its strength is more asserted than demonstrated. Ngor, a non-professional is adequate but his Oscar is more in recognition of his and his people’s tragedy than for his acting skills (he personally survived the “killing fields” but.his wife died there during childbirth). The second half of the film which is given over to Pran's story after the fall of Phnom Penh is the stronger of two parts, being simpler in form and less able to suffer in comparison with other South East Asian war film, although the finale of the film in which Schanberg and Pran are reunited to the strains of John Lennon's "Imagine" seriously overdoes the sentimentality.

Although thoroughgoing in depicting events there is nothing particularly distinctive about Joffé’s direction and one can’t help but feel that the reality of the tragedy of those events has lead to the over-valuation of the film as such.

FYI: The film was the first significant screen role for John Malkovich and also provided a small role for Australian small-screen legend, Graham Kennedy. Dr. Ngor was murdered in a robbery in LA in 1996.

DVD Extras: Director’s commentary; BBC Documentary, The Making of The Killing Fields; Interview with producer, David Puttnam

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment




Want something different?

random vintage best worst