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  • Based on the Khmer Rouge revolution in Cambodia, this is an excellent tale of hardship and friendship. Basically director Roland Joffe` did an wonderful job in exposing the detailed facts so simply in the film that you believe that you are in that time in person. The two actors, Sam Waterson and Haing Ngor both displayed godlike pieces of acting. It's unfortunate Waterson couldn't join Ngor in Academy Awards. In addition, the director's credit is to highlight both the characters' points of view. That's why the movie became so interesting to watch. John Malkovich brought out a fine performance as a photographer.

    In the course of the story of adventures of the two men, the film also has vivid descriptions of the public life during the war. Several detailed scenes of war violence are presented here so indifferently that you are bound to be convinced about its historical accuracy. Here we find the magical cinematography of Chris Menges. Again, during the time of Dith Pran's suffering, it never seemed that the director is showing too much.

    One of the most important, and my favorite, aspects of the film is its ending. You cannot imagine of a better alternative of this happiest ending possible in a war drama. And with the fantastic use of Lennon's "imagine", it has got to an enormous height of perfection. 5/5.
  • Rating: **** Out of ****

    Hard to say, but I believe when it comes to the war genre, The Killing Fields manages to edge out even Saving Private Ryan, and without a doubt, there's no better war film out there that's done a better job of capturing the realistic details and emotional loss of the time period (that being, the 70's in Cambodia/Vietnam).

    Thus, I've always considered it a little odd that no one I know has even heard of this film. When lists of the greatest war films are decided, I don't believe I've ever seen this film crack any list. And the reason is simple: The Killing Fields is often ignored because it doesn't come from a soldier's point of view, and neither does it feature any adrenaline-pumping battle sequences. The fact that a strong portion of the film (about 2/5's) comes entirely from a Cambodian man's viewpoint might throw off a few viewers here and there. And yet, the film does just as fine a job as any anti-war film in creating a frightenining, chaotic world.

    The performances all around superb without exception. Haing S. Ngor, who was tragically killed a few years ago, delivers a riveting, emotionally wrenching turn as the guide who is trapped in Cambodia and forced to fight for his life. He deservingly won the Oscar, though it's a shame he was snubbed for the best actor award. Inarguably, he's the film's central character and he also has more screen time than top-billed Sam Waterston. Despite my complaint on that matter, Waterston is also excellent as the journalist with a guilty conscience.

    The Killing Fields is a suspenseful and exhilarating experience, a journey through an apocalyptic landscape that features one shocking image after another. Watch, and you'll see why the film is so acclaimed.
  • I saw this film a while back and just saw it again on TV. If you are interested in seeing a great, tense drama this is a good start. Honest and unapologetic directing from Roland Joffe and fine performances from Sam Waterston & John Malkovich (plus nicely played small parts by Craig T. Nelson & Spalding Gray.) Above all of them, however, is Haing S. Ngor as Dith Pran, the Cambodian journalist assisting the New York Times reporter played by Waterston during the conflicts in Cambodia around the time of the Vietnam war. This was Ngor's first film and had no previous acting experience. Quite a performance from Ngor, earning a well deserved Academy Award. Interesting note, Ngor himself led a very similar life to his character. Wonderfully touching film, you should see it.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    *Some spoilers*

    Complex & historically rich, THE KILLING FIELDS is closely based upon New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg's 'The Life And Death Of Dith Pran.' Schanberg was a stringer for the Times during the Vietnam War, and was stationed in Phnom Penh in the early 1970s as once-neutral Cambodia was overrun by outside interference (US and North Vietnam), and collapsed into an explosively violent civil war.

    Schanberg reported extensively on this war, assisted by Cambodian photojournalist Dith Pran, and this film does an adequate job of introducing the complexities of it – the rightist government (which was nominally US-backed - not touched upon during the film) quickly became paralyzed by inaction, stunning levels of corruption and ineptness. Simultaneously, the mysterious other side (deemed Les Khmer Rouges by the deposed Prince Noorodom Sihanouk) fought with near-incomprehensible ferocity, maintaining an impenetrable veil of secrecy about their ideology and future plans for Cambodia.

    With the Cambodian government(the Khmer Republic) soon in a swift free-fall, the American embassy was closed on April 10, 1975 and Americans – along with some Cambodians – were airlifted out. After painful debate, Schanberg and Pran opted to remain, in an attempt at covering the now-imminent fall of Phnom Penh. Seven days later, the Khmer Rouge (K.R.) captured the city – the dying government shuddering to a surrender, and Schanberg and Pran went into hiding in the French embassy.

    The finest moments of the film are the depictions of the chaos, desperation and crowding at the French compound – the intent and future behavior of the K.R. were not well-known at this point (right up to, and for a considerable amount of time after their victory they operated in absolute, cult-like secrecy), and the sense of oncoming apocalypse is perfectly expressed with a subtle, seemingly-throwaway line delivered at this point by a French diplomat: "Adieu, ancien regime," as an official from the now-overthrown Khmer republican government was lead away at gunpoint, and the sound of massacres could be heard all over the city.

    Pran was stranded in the country as the K.R. immediately launched one of the most infamous revolutions in world history, ordering cities emptied of their populations in an attempt at creating an isolationist agricultural utopia, and dismantling 'bourgeois' institutions. The ideology of the K.R. (critical to understanding the tragic depths of the story, and skimmed over in the film) was essentially a blend of the most extreme theories of Mao and Stalin, mixed with a strand of nationalism rivaling any variant of fascism in its ferocity. In this harshly reconstructed society, urbanites and the educated (like Pran) were automatically considered enemies of the people, likely to be killed as potential counterrevolutionaries. Forced into a gulag in the countryside, Pran camouflages his background, but is still subjected to the brutalities inflicted upon many of his comrades.

    Upon hearing that Vietnam has invaded Cambodia, Pran flees into the bush, gradually making his way to the Thai border. Word reaches Schanberg, who has been searching for Pran for nearly four years (Cambodia had been sealed off from the outside world), and the two are reunited in a refugee camp in Eastern Thailand. KILLING FIELDS is a gripping film, successful on many fronts. Filmed in Thailand, the performances seem very authentic, and the period setting is painstakingly recreated. The cinematography has an impressive John Ford grandeur. Thus my main problems with the film amount to hairsplitting: the Mike (ugh) Oldfield score is abysmal, and at least one otherwise great scene (the US embassy evacuation) is ruined by it. A little more digging into some of the political ideologies swirling around the actual events would give the later scenes (Pran in one of the KR collectives) needed context. Other commentators here have already noted the inapproriateness of Lennon's 'Imagine' at the films' end, and the mercifully brief Schanberg-at-home scenes during the latter half of the film are a bit much.

    Very intense - as doctor-survivor-actor Haing S. Ngor – who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Pran – stated in 'A Cambodian Odyssey,' - his own autobiography: "Had the film portrayed the actual severity of what had occurred, no one would've been able to sit through it." This is easily among the most harrowing tales of friendship and loyalty to have ever made it to the big screen; even with minor problems, a film very much worth seeing.
  • First of all I love this genre of movie; I'm not a huge fan of action or fantasy or romance movies, I have so-called "comedies" but I love genuine FILM, as in FILM not MOVIE; art as opposed to enterprise.

    This film, The Killing Fields, is one of the defining films in it's class; based on the true story of an American journalist (one Sydney Schanberg) working in Cambodia and his guide/interpreter; a Cambodian named Dith Pran. When the Khmer Rouge (probably one of the most vicious and barbaric regimes in history) takes power the Westerners flee. The enterprising American, however, remains behind with his faithful guide (who sends his family off to America). This turns out to be a bad decision; through a series of misadventures Dith Pran cannot escape Cambodia and must remain behind while his friend flees. The movie weaves a wonderful tale of adventure, misadventure, loss, suffering, death, and reunion (in no particular order).

    This movie is so beautiful and touching (and so very graphic) that one cannot help but be affected by it; a must-see, one of the defining movies on the subject of war as well as loss and certainly the most evocative film about the Khmer Rouge and the Viet Nam War in Cambodia. A beautiful film about war and tragedy but filled with hope throughout...
  • Thought-provoking war-drama based on the memoirs of N.Y. Times correspondent named Sidney (Sam Waterston) and his relationship to journalist assistant and guide named Pran (Haing S Ngor ) . Extraordinary feature debut for Ngor who won Best Supporting Actor Academy Award . Haing S. Ngor a real-life doctor who had never acted before and who lived through the deeds depicted at the movie , he became the first Southeast Asian ,and the first Buddhist, to achieve an Oscar ; furthermore also first film for John Malkovich who makes an awesome portrayal as intrepid photographer . Ngor's own experiences ( in real life he lived Cambodian war ) echoed those of his character and usually played Vietnam roles ( Tortures of war, Heaven and Earth,In love and war, Vietnam Texas, Eastern condor) until his violent death by an Asian band . This exciting story depicts the war chaos , Cambodian turmoil and primal bloodletting but most of the movie is a shattering re-creation of hell on Earth . Marvelous cinematography by Chris Menges who also deservedly won Oscar and filmed in Phuket, Railway Hotel, Hua Hin, Thailand and Royal York Hotel, Toronto, Ontario, Canada . Screeching and sensible musical score by Mike Oldfield that accompanies perfectly to the film . Roland Joffe's direction shows a generally sure-hand with a bit of melodrama at the end . Alain Resnais's seminal documentary ¨Nuit et Brouillard (1955)¨ was a touch-point for both director Roland Joffé and prestigious producer David Puttnam when they were preparing this magnificent movie.

    This excellent movie contains a relentless criticism to Pol Pot regime , but also US and an exact description about historic events . In power, the Khmer Rouge carried out a radical program that included isolating the country from foreign influence, closing schools, hospitals and factories, abolishing banking, finance and currency, outlawing all religions, confiscating all private property and relocating people from urban areas to collective farms where forced labor was widespread. The purpose of this policy was to turn Cambodians into "Old People" through agricultural labor. These actions resulted in massive deaths through executions, work exhaustion, illness, and starvation. In Phnom Penh and other cities, the Khmer Rouge told residents that they would be moved only about "two or three kilometers" outside the city and would return in "two or three days." Some witnesses say they were told that the evacuation was because of the "threat of American bombing" and that they did not have to lock their houses since the Khmer Rouge would "take care of everything" until they returned.Money was abolished, books were burned, teachers, merchants, and almost the entire intellectual elite of the country were murdered, to make the agricultural communism, as Pol Pot envisioned it, a reality. The planned relocation to the countryside resulted in the complete halt of almost all economic activity: even schools and hospitals were closed, as well as banks, and industrial and service companies.During their four years in power, the Khmer Rouge overworked and starved the population, at the same time executing selected groups who had the potential to undermine the new state (including intellectuals or even those that had stereotypical signs of learning, such as glasses) and killing many others for even breaching minor rules . The Khmer Rouge forced people to work for 12 hours non-stop, without adequate rest or food. They did not believe in western medicine but instead favoured traditional peasant medicine; many died as a result. Family relationships not sanctioned by the state were also banned, and family members could be put to death for communicating with each other. In any case, family members were often relocated to different parts of the country with all postal and telephone services abolished. They committed crimes against humanity , the Khmer Rouge government arrested, tortured and eventually executed anyone suspected of belonging to several categories of supposed "enemies". Today, examples of the torture methods used by the Khmer Rouge can be seen at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The museum occupies the former grounds of a high school turned prison camp that was operated by Khang Khek Ieu, more commonly known as "Comrade Duch". Some 17,000 people passed through this centre before they were taken to sites (also known as The Killing Fields), outside Phnom Penh where most were executed (mainly by pickaxes to save bullets) and buried in mass graves. Of the thousands who entered the Tuol Sleng Centre (also known as S-21), only twelve are known to have survived.
  • I can't put my finger on exactly what it is about this film that gets to me so much, but it is THE most haunting, emotional film experience... and I've only ever seen it on video.

    Excellent performances from Waterston, Ngor and Malkovich. A brilliant score by Mike Oldfield. Scenes of high emotion, tension, drama, horror and even one or two pieces of light relief (well, it has got Australia's Graham Kennedy of comedy fame).

    The stand-out scenes for mine are those in the French Embassy; I can never watch the final scene from this sequence with a dry eye.

    An excellent film and the soundtrack is not a bad investment either.
  • Oh, this brings me back alright. It was the last days of 1984, and earnest college students like me had much to talk about. Wasn't it wonderful that Walter Mondale had chosen a strong woman like Geraldine Ferraro to be his running mate, and wouldn't the Democrats sweep the Northeast at least for that brave move? Does buying a Coke at the local convenience store signal support for the apartheid government in South Africa? Did anyone else see that amazing film about the human price of American involvement in Southeast Asia?

    It's nearly 20 years later, and I've managed to shake the ill effects of my youthful liberalism easily enough in most cases. This film, however, packs the kind of punch that isn't explained away by political trendiness.

    "The Killing Fields" is a great film that tries and succeeds in capturing much of the carnage and tragedy of Cambodia as the radicalized Khmer Rouge and the U.S.-backed regime of Lon Nol controlling Phnom Penh clash in a fight to the death to be/not be the next domino in the Communist rollover in Southeast Asia. By particularizing the conflict to that of the true-life relationship of two men, New York Times reporter Syndey Schanberg and his Cambodian apprentice and aide-de-camp, Dith Pran, the film forces a level of empathy that is at once uncomfortable and absorbing. It is possible to walk away from this film hating the manipulation, the America-bashing, the easy liberal guilt. But it's impossible to walk away from the human experience borne witness to before the movie's done, if one has any pretense of being human, and that's its great strength.

    Oh, it's polemical alright. We hear comments about how the Khmer Rouge's excesses were the direct result of Nixon's secret bombing campaign. (U.S. Counsel: "After what the Khmer Rouge have been through, I don't think they'll be exactly affectionate toward Westerners." Schanberg: "Maybe we underestimated the anger $7 billion in bombing would unleash.") It makes its point, absolves Pol Pot and condemns Kissinger with the same broad brush, and it feels a bit jaded and hollow for that, but I don't know. Schanberg betrays the attitudes of a knee-jerk liberal, and I outgrew that, and maybe I feel superior for that, but Schanberg had AK-47s pointed at his head by 12-year-old brainwashed boys, and I didn't, so shut up already, know what I mean?

    The performances are incredible in their verisimilitude, particularly the leads. Sam Waterson burns with righteous anger as Schanberg, and I like his performance for what it is and how he creates that extra level of tension, but he's a butterfly compared to the condor that's Dr. Haing S. Ngor, one of the Academy's most obscure best supporting actor recipients (there was even a joke about it in an episode of "The Simpsons") but someone who didn't just walk the walk. He relived his experience surviving a holocaust that was, per square mile, even more savage than the Holocaust itself. The fact he won a Best Supporting Actor award (Waterson instead was nominated for Best Actor, and lost to F. Murray Abraham for "Amadeus") is one of those perversities of film history, given he carries more of the film than Waterson (who slinks to the background two-thirds of the way in) but also that he personalizes the story in a way that makes the incomprehensible immediate and involving.

    We lost Ngor to a senseless murder a few years ago, and have little left to explain what was going through his mind as he relived an experience that cost him his wife and child when he actually lived through it. Roland Joffe does a nice job in the DVD commentary, though, a commentary I put up there with P. T. Anderson's "Boogie Nights" and William Peter Blatty's "The Ninth Configuration" for being worth the price of the DVD and then some by itself. He recalls Ngor's reaction to one child actress whose hard face in enacting a scene convinced Ngor she wasn't just pretending to be Khmer Rouge, and Ngor's request that Joffe participate in one critical scene by muttering real torments Ngor suffered at the hands of the "KR" as a way of enhancing his performance. At one point, trying to convince him to come aboard, Joffe said something about Ngor owing it to his country to bear witness to his story, and that of Dith Pran, and that did the trick, though Joffe seems to wonder if the same sort of manipulation Schanberg pulled on Pran wasn't going on here, too.

    It's a great movie because it doesn't shy away from uncomfortable truths, because it never loses sight of the human dimension, and because it gave a pretense of understanding to one of the great human traumas after World War II. We never wallow in gore, but the cost of this war is always with us while we watch. The experience is both endurable and humiliating.

    I just wish they reshot that ending, with "Imagine." Joffe in his commentary even notes the lyrics are the sort of thing Pol Pot would have gone along with. It feels forced. Did Yoko Ono give her approval after they explained the scene her dead husband's song would appear in, or after they told her the first nasty execution scene would be shot while "Band On The Run" issued forth from a soldier's radio?

    A great movie, of an awful moment in human history. If we have any chance of overcoming man's sorry past, it will be because movies like this one get made once in a while.
  • I've read only 20 comments so far, and it was surprising to learn that some viewers (namely 'gregory.messine' and 'RBarse', both of US of A ) think it's set in Vietnam. Come on lads, I've heard that education in America is not great but I didn't expect it to be so bad. Have you ever opened an atlas. Maybe the sound in your theater didn't work or sth. THIS FILM IS ABOUT A WAR IN CAMBODIA. Cambodia is a neighbour of Vietnam. It's set in 1973-79, just after the Vietnam War!!!!!

    Anyway, back to movie. It's brilliant, not too sentimental, not too cold. The acting is simply marvellous (to be honest I didn't know any of the actors except for Malkovich), cinematography is a touch of genius. Some people complained about the score. Well I can agree, that the lyrics of "Imagine" in the context sound like a Khmer Rouge anthem, but the rest is beautiful (Oldfield did a good job).The scene when Schanberg watches some TV programme about the Cambodian War while listening to Puccini's opera is so moving, just like the sight of thousands of Cambodians being "evacuated" by the Khmer out of Phnom Pehn.

  • Warning: Spoilers
    Without doubt THE KILLING FIELDS is one of the greatest films ever to have come out of Britain . The cinematography is outstanding , watch the numerous scenes where someone runs past the camera and the camera follows them only to have the camera follow someone else when they run past it , or the way the camera spins around when the journalists are captured outside the hospital , but this film is rightly remembered for one man : Haing S Ngor , a Cambodian doctor who had his own horrors to tell after nearly being captured by the Khmer Rouge ( !!!! POSSIBLE SPOILER !!!!!) the scene near the end where he sees the red cross refugee camp in Thailand is one of the most moving in the history of cinema .

    I won`t bother to list all the great things about the film , but I will reply to some criticisms . First of all the anti American slant . Well I think we can all agree that America`s intervention in South East Asia in the 1960s has been the greatest mistake in American history . Their war in Vietnam and the bombing of Cambodia and Laos caused the massive instability that led to the rise of Pol Pot and as THE KILLING FIELDS shows when the Americans fought and lost they abandoned the Cambodian people to their fate. I also agree that the music can be intrusive but has anyone noticed that we get string orchestras for Dith Pran and ordinary Cambodian civilians and mechanical synthesisers for KR killers ? I think there`s a reason for this . My only other criticism is that after reading Christopher Hudson`s novelization the script makes makes some of the characters vague like Noakes and Rosa for example . But there`s not much wrong with THE KILLING FIELDS , a throwback to a time when Brits made films that weren`t comedies , though I`ll be the first to admit that this film won`t be to everyone`s taste .

    And as I write this review many years after it was made THE KILLING FIELDS does have an added poignancy today . Dr Haing S Ngor was brutally murdered by a street gang for no reason at all several years ago . And we see Sydney Schanberg looking across the New York skyline with a very prominent shot of the twin towers of the WTC
  • I've finally seen The Killing Fields, more than 20 years after it was originally released.

    This is one of the most powerful, important films ever made. It is so important, now as ever, for everyone to understand what evil truly is. This movie shows evil in its worst form: the form of mass murder thinly disguised as ideological cleansing.

    What makes this film so special is not only the bare-faced method of its delivery (including some horrid shots of the dumping grounds of the murdered), but the way the film keeps a decidedly Southeast Asian feel. The filmmakers worked to keep that style, in the scenery, the music, the set design, and, most importantly, by keeping the Cambodian journalist front-and-center in most scenes. In fact, the only time the film doesn't work is when it focuses on the New York Times reporter (the main reason I give this film a 9 instead of a 10 are the pace-stealing scenes stateside). Far too often we only see such stories from our own viewpoint, it's incredibly refreshing (and bold) to film a story like this from the viewpoint of the foreign country whose ruin was precipitated by the careless policies of our own government.

    Wonderfully filmed, well acted, brilliantly scripted, The Killing Fields is a timeless, important classic. A must see for any student of history or film.

    9 out of 10 Barky
  • It must be impossible for anyone not to be affected by this film. Each and every component combines together to form not only a hard-hitting political statement, but also a focus on a deep and pure friendship.

    Images of the injured, bloodied, distraught and destitute, leave lasting effects and obviously prove uncomfortable to watch sometimes, but they put us in the positions of the journalists who were stepping into the war zone of Cambodia at the time. In contrast, there is the compelling scene in which Sydney Schanberg plays video footage of Nixon blatantly lying about America's involvement in Cambodia and also shows Cambodians who have been injured by the fighting. While this still evokes feelings of sadness, it stirs up more angry emotions aimed at the dishonesty of the government, and, if looking at it from a wider perspective, most politicians. This is one of The Killing Fields' great strengths - its ability to make us feel a range of emotions throughout the course of the film.

    At no point is there any attempt to glamorise the subject matter or try and put a Hollywood spin on it. For instance, when the group of journalists are captured by the Khmer Rouge and forced into the back of the tank, the close-ups show the sweat and fear on their faces in the near darkness, with no wisecracking lines or dramatic music, just the sounds of the tank travelling to an unknown destination.

    The music moves away from the traditional sweeping classical score (apart from the hauntingly beautiful main theme) and relies heavily on synths and other electronic sounds. This actually works to great effect - possibly better than a classical soundtrack would - emphasising the confusion and fear of the people and the drama of the fighting. However it is John Lennon's Imagine, played in the final scene, that encapsulates the message of the film and provides a subtle yet powerful ending.

    All the cast excel but it's Sam Waterston and Haing Ngor who particularly shine and make their characters' relationship seem completely believable. It would have been ridiculous to have asked Ngor to put any more into his performance, due to his own experiences under the Khmer Rouge regime.

    To put it simply, you really must watch this film.
  • MrsRainbow3 March 1999
    I watched this movie with my father shortly after it came out on video, so I would have been only 9 or 10 at the time. I did not see it again until this year, but I could still remember the scene of a lone man stumbling across a field strewn with the skeletons of his countrymen. Watching it again was both a moving and a worthwhile experience.

    There are so many scenes which will, as the movie case says, haunt the viewer long after watching. The scene already mentioned, Waterston and Ngor wandering through the remains of the homes of Cambodian civilians destroyed by American bombs, a little girl, her hands over her ears, crying and screaming, surrounded by explosions and gunfire.

    The acting performances are top notch all round, particularly, of course, by Dr. Ngor. The team of Joffe and Menges is superb, as they also are in The Mission. Both films are in my video library.

    As an aside, whatever happened to Joffe? Super Mario Brothers? The Scarlet Letter? The Mission and The Killing Fields are such rich, well-crafted films. It's a shame that actors and directors are pulled towards Hollywood. Artistic integrity is priceless. Perhaps that's why it's given away by so many.
  • marykate_nyland29 September 2011
    The Killing Fields is one of the most influential films of the 20th century. Its provocative and dangerous subject matter stresses the importance of communication and the freedom to communicate. Based on the Khmer Rouge occupation and genocide of Cambodia in the 1970's, the film tells the story of two men, catapulted into chaos and peril.

    The movie is first and foremost, a historical account. The events are based off the true story of Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg. Given that I had not known much about the Cambodian genocide of the 1970's prior to seeing this film, I must herald the piece as a successful feat of cinematography that served as both informational as well as inspirational. The film is believable, realistic, and heart wrenching. I immediately felt for the two main characters as they quickly exchanged trust and fell victim to the powers of political violence. While it is slightly romanticized, The Killing Fields still manages to produce a message with real life implications.
  • Brief Summary: This movie depicts the story of one Dith Pran engulfed in one of the most tragic genocidal regimes to ever grace this planet. Pran has been caught in the Year Zero program, an attempt from the Khmer Rouge to wash away all preknowledge of societies and start everyone over as simple farmers. 'Wash away' is being used in a light context though, people such as doctors, students, teachers, etc are being killed. Children are being honoured and respected as their minds have not had the time to be corrupt by the western traditions. This explains the fact that many of the Khmer Rouge are in fact teenagers. We experience through our eyes the many horrid nightmares Dith experiences at the hands of these young tyrants.

    Review: A pretty typical story of an individual being caught in a 'wipeout' program much akin to the many holocaust films out there. What makes this film stand out is that it shows the viewers a different regime in history with very much the same effects on its population as the holocaust. The acting is superb by all degrees, in fact, the main actor Dith Pran (real name Haing S Ngor) has actually been through the horrors of Pol Pot's regime. In conclusion, a nice movie to watch just to see the power of a regime other than the Nazi's as well as a man who has to go through all of it.

    8/10 - Won't be forgotten (in a good way!)
  • Warning: Spoilers
    In 1975 the revolutionary group Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and initiated a regime that reportedly claimed two million lives. At the time the Vietnam War was still going on, Cambodia was a strategic territory for the American army and the country was full of journalists. The basis of the movie's story comes from the lives of two of them: New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg, and Dith Pran, Cambodian photojournalist and interpreter who coined the term "Killing Fields." Written by Bruce Robinson based on their writings, the movie follows in fact two stories: one is the fall of Phnom Penh, the capital, and the evacuation of the international embassies, as witnessed by Sydney and Pran, and Sydney's return to the USA; and the second, more radical narrative, shows the horrors of the Khmer Rouge as witnessed by Pran after he's captured and sent to work in a Killing Field, and his epic escape to freedom.

    From Phnom Penh Sydney and Pran report the events of the civil war between the government and the Khmer Rouge, with the revolutionaries clearly gaining control of the country. The international embassies start evacuating their personnel. Sydney and Pran opt to remain, although Pran sends his wife and family away. As the Khmer Rouge revolutionaries enter the city, they're initially received with joy and prospects of peace, everyone tired of the war. Even Pran joins the festivities. However the Khmer Rouge, split in different factions due to internal power struggles, continue to fight in the capital. Sydney and Pran find refuge in the French embassy, until it's also evacuated and all Cambodians hiding there are turned over to the revolutionaries.

    For the time, the movie was quite revolutionary in casting a non-amateur actor in the role of Dith Pran. They found Haing Somnang Ngor, a doctor living in the USA, to portray Pran. Like Pran, Ngor had also spent four years in the killing fields before escaping. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1985 for this role. He played the role with naturalism and lightness, displaying a restraint in emotions in situations where an actor would typically go into melodramatic mode. The choice of Ngor is ahead of its time for another reason. Anglo-American movies tend to work on the logic that audiences can only care for the plight of foreign countries if the experiences are mediated through a character from their culture; that's why war correspondents are usually the main characters in such movies. Although now thanks to movies like Letters from Iwo Jima and Hotel Rwanda this is changing, casting a Cambodian actor to tell the story of a Cambodian prisoner of the Khmer Rouge was audacious then.

    Sam Waterston also delivers a powerful performance as Sydney, an authoritarian boss who blames himself for having used Pran to further his career only to abandon him. Back in New York he starts an international campaign to find his friend, always wondering whether he's doing enough for him. The movie is also helped with performances from John Malkovich and Julian Sands as two other journalists, Craig T. Nelson as the US Army officer in charge of the American evacuation, and Spalding Gray as the morally-torn American Consul, wary of abandoning the country to the revolutionaries.

    The scenes in the Killing Fields still have, decades later and after graphic violence has become generalised, the power to affect because of how the movie shows the psychological roots of the crimes. It's not that the images are excessively violent, it's that the movie depicts a philosophy of inhumanity. Regimes don't just producer horror for its own sake, the violence is just a tool to implement ideas. Rather than just showing the horrors, the movie shows the philosophy which the violence was used to enforce: the viewer is taken into the classrooms where children are being taught to hate the concept of family and any personal relationships that may threaten blind loyalty to the party; children are given power over life and death; intellectuals, teachers, journalists are executed for their skills; people are forbidden from growing crops, because that's a sign of free initiative, even though thousands are starving to death The movie confronts us with those ideas and we can't help but ask, "How the hell did anyone ever think these ideas could work in a society?" Not everything holds up as well in the movie. Many good scenes are ruined by Mike Oldfield's intrusive cacophony of synthesizer noises. Nowadays, when we listen to electronic scores with less patience than our ancestors did back in the '80s, a lot of this music sounds horrible. Oldfield, one of my favourite living musicians, is by no means an inept film composer, however: half the score, when he turns to traditional orchestration, is majestic. "Pran's Theme" and its variations are appropriately elegiac, and "Requim for a City," with its chorus of grieving voices, is a haunting attempt at showing through music the misery of the one million Cambodians forced by the Khmer Rouge to abandon the capital in a forced march to the countryside to work on the Killing Fields.

    Twenty-seven years later what the movie has to say about the darkness in the human soul, and the determination to overcome it, remains fresh.
  • I first saw The Killing Fields when it came out. I recall watching it on the big screen and being totally enthralled and impressed. Everything about it has the ring of reality, with a gripping sense of the brutality and evil of war. I think the sequence in which the journalists are arrested by the Khmer Rouge is one of the greatest moments in film history. The brilliant soundtrack that sets the mood as are they held hostage, while Prahn pleads and bargains for their lives, is perfect. You feel as though you are right there with these men as they experience desperation amid the shocking violence of war. The palpable mood of gut-wrenching fear and tension that the actors project goes far beyond the standard Hollywood fare. This movie is a subtle collage of sound, sights, and emotion that is very rare. The cast is uniformly excellent, and in technical terms the direction,cinematography,editing, soundtrack, sets and screenplay are as good as it gets. It should have won Best Picture as far as I am concerned. Haing S. Ngor deserved his Oscar, and Sam Waterston should have won Best Actor too. This is an incredible story and an incredible movie. Too bad they don't make more like it. I've seen it many times over the years and it gets better with time. It's a masterpiece.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The Killing Fields follows the story of A New York Times journalist, Sydney Schanberg, and his Cambodian translator, Dith Pran. Schanberg is there to report on Cambodia's border being bombed by the U.S. during the last years of the Vietnam War. These bombings make Cambodia vulnerable to the takeover by the Khmer Rouge regime, which becomes Schanberg's new story.

    Schanberg and his colleagues are journalists who want people to know what really is going on as opposed to the watered down/non-existent radio/TV coverage about Cambodia's problems. John Malkovich's photo journalist character makes a snide remark about a certain BBC reporter who must sneak reports past the Khmer Rouge soldiers in the beaks of chickens that somehow make it to Thailand.

    Schanberg gets Pran's family out of Cambodia to America as the American Embassy and everybody else is getting out of Cambodia because they know that the Khmer Rouge is going to takeover the capital city. But Pran stays behind with Schanberg. Pran sees the Khmer Rouge parading through town and believes there might be peace, but his hopes are dashed as the Khmer Rouge soldiers kidnap Pran and the journalists for awhile. Things in Cambodia go from bad to worse, and the journalists are given one last chance to leave, but no Cambodians can go. The journalists try and doctor a passport for Pran, but it fails. Schanberg and the other journalist believe Pran will die at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Malkovich blames Schanberg for Pran's fate. Schanberg begins to symbolize America in the way we bombed (used) Cambodia (Pran) and left it behind just when they needed our help.

    Disturbing scenes of children caring guns, a young girl suffocating a prisoner, and skeletons floating in a ditch show the atrocities of this dictatorship. Somehow Pran manages to survive in a prison camp--where he is starved, brainwashed, and tortured. He finally escapes and reunites with Schanberg.

    There are some scenes in which some subtitles would have been appreciated. The Killing Fields has been criticized for leaning to the left in its view of what happened in Cambodia, and I agree with that. It's really amazing that a movie like this ever got made considering the Hollywood machine. I recommend The Killing Fields for fans of Vietnam movies. And considering our times now, it is certainly interesting viewing.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The acting is very good. I'm not just saying that because I'm impressed brown people from foreign countries can act (as I suspect many are). Some of the guards are impressively menacing, for example. It's hard to give John Malkovitch credit because he's always good.

    The story is a little self-indulgent; much of it is about the Americans. I'd venture to guess that the actual Killing Field period takes up less than 40% of the film's time.

    The score is lousy, but then, really, a lot of scores at the time this was made were terrible. (Yes, there are some gems. But there's a whole lot of rubble.)

    Ultimately, my problem with the movie is that if you're looking for a fair understanding of what happened in Cambodia, this isn't it. It's an attempt by some people to wash their hands of their own culpability, and to whitewash the atrocities committed by those whose political philosophy they are sympathetic towards.

    The show does nothing of any real significance to demonstrate the unparalleled horror that the Khmer inflicted on Cambodia, and instead hopes to write it off as the result of American bombing. Silly.

    Leave aside the unmentioned fact that the bombings were sanctioned by the Cambodian government, which had thrown out the Prince who was allowing the country to be used by the North Vietnamese. That's not an unimportant fact. (I hope viewers understand that Cambodia is how the North Vietnamese infiltrated the South - get a map and look at where Saigon and the Mekong Delta are, and you'll suddenly begin to understand why there was so much fighting in that notorious swamp and why Nixon bombed Cambodia. Secret? To whom? It was no secret to the Cambodians. The fact that some Americans drone on about its secrecy is merely evidence of their own self-importance. What does the secrecy of the bombings - to the American mind - have to do with the fact that leftist Cambodians were teaching children to hack their families to death with machetes? If "the bombings" made them do it, why the need to indoctrinate children away from the idea of family? One has zero to do with the other, but everything to do with a philosophy of Party and State.)

    But you're talking about a regime (the Khmer) that managed - in a country with a population density somewhere around present-day Wisconsin - to round up and slaughter somewhere between 1 out of every 6 and 1 out of every 4 people. Even the Vietnamese didn't commit these kinds of atrocities and we flattened the place. They had cities to bomb and bomb them we did. As we did Germany and Japan. The Khmer always intended to do the things they did, but it would be too much for Chomskyites to admit that this is the logical conclusion of their radical inclinations.

    It would be good to really get a handle on what was done. I suspect we'll have to wait a long time before we ever get a fair treatment of what happened to the Kulaks, what happened in the real Gulags, during the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the North Vietnamese conquering of the South and what the Khmer did.

    The use of Communist Viet Nam appears only as the plot device (albeit a historic one) that allows the protagonist to attempt his escape (of course, by a "real" Khmer patriot, now suddenly worried about where his country is going). It mentions the border scuffles in a single line. Nothing about the fact that waves of human beings were fleeing Cambodia by any means possible to Thailand, Burma and Viet Nam (which was already conducting its own pogrom against the South while gearing up to go to war with their former sponsors the Chinese). Red on Red indeed.

    And yeah: "Imagine" is a silly song. Communists butchered many, many people because those people were attached to their religions. This is just spitting on their graves.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    *Possible spoilers*

    The Killing Fields attempts to tell the story of the Cambodian holocaust through its two main characters, NY Times journalist Sidney Schanberg and Cambodian Dith Pran. Unfortunately, the film only succeeds in telling Schanberg's view of the Cambodian Holocaust.

    As mentioned by a previous reviewer, Pol Pot, the architect of the tragedy, is not mentioned once. Schanberg's unwillingness to see the Khmer Rouge for what they really were is briefly touched on, but that is excused by the journalist attempting to blame the holocaust on the Nixon Administration and their bombing campaign. While it can be argued that there may have been more humane ways to attempt to prevent the Communist takeover, realistically there weren't any other options available to the Nixon administration given the legislative handicaps placed on them by the Congress regarding action in Cambodia. It would've been nice to see that point addressed, as it would have been nice for the film to acknowledge that four days before the Khmer Rouge victory, Schanberg wrote a column for the NY Times entitled, "Indochina without Americans: For most, a better life." The horrors being committed by the Khmer Rouge in eastern Cambodia had been reported by refugees for well over a year by that point, and yet Schanberg and the Times refused to acknowledge it.

    It is bad enough that this film perpetuates the canard that the Americans were to blame for the holocaust because of their bombing campaign. What is absolutely unacceptable is that while passing judgment on US policy, this film never once brings up, let alone finds fault with, the North Vietnamese policies in Cambodia. It was under the auspices of the North Vietnamese that the Khmer Rouge was founded in 1959. It was in Hanoi that Pol Pot and 30,000 other KR's found sanctuary and training. It was Hanoi that initially violated the neutrality of Cambodia, taxing and conscripting peasants into their cause of conquest. It is the very height of absurdity that this film blames the US while not once mentioning either Pol Pot or the NVA's role in what occurred.

    All that being said, the story of the Cambodian holocaust is very important history that should be known by all. It is my hope that this tale will be given more balanced treatment in the future by someone in Hollywood. But given its current aversion to making films about the crimes of Communism or ones with plot, I won't hold my breath.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The story of the Cambodian genocide is one that has practically no parallels in terms of sheer brutality and the impact it has had on a country. And yet this is pretty much the only film that had some sort of widespread reach in the western world. It's a real pity that it wasn't a better film.

    I did see the movie when it came out originally and while I didn't think it was a brilliant film at the time, it got me interested enough in the subject to read up on in it. Including Dith Pran's book which the film is based upon. Having re-watched it now for the first time in decades and with a lot more background knowledge, the film is full of very big flaws.

    One of the driving forces for this film is meant to be the friendship between Dith Pran and Sidney Schanberg, but for the first half of the movie, Sidney treats Pran like a low-level employee and there's no real warmth on screen between them. It's only when Pran is forced to leave the French embassy where they've been hiding out and gets sent to a Khmer Rouge labour camp that suddenly this great friendship is highlighted, even though there was little evidence of it shown beforehand.

    The second half of the movie, with Sidney back in the US and Dith Pran left behind in Cambodia is where the film somewhat hits its stride. That said, reading about his actual experiences, the film feels almost tame in comparison. Roland Joffe also missed a chance of making a bigger impact here by deciding to not use subtitles for any of the Khmer dialog throughout the movie. This means that the second half where it's almost exclusively featuring Cambodians has to work on a visual level for viewers who don't understand the dialog. That means many of the scenes are over-simplified and make them feel less realistic than they should have been.

    Likely the decision to not use subtitles also means that Dith Pran's time in the killing fields was shortened so much in the movie that it feels like it lasted a couple of weeks rather than the four years it really was.

    The by far worst aspect of this movie though is the music! I'm sorry but as much respect as I have for Mike Oldfield, he absolutely cannot write movie scores. The music here is so completely out of place and distracting, it ruins all the otherwise great scenes. A perfect example of that is when Pran, Schanberg and a couple of other journalists get captured by Khmer Rouge troops and held hostage in an abandoned Coke factory. What would have been an incredibly tense set of scenes gets absolutely ruined by the music that sounds like it would be better placed in an episode of Gumby. It's so distracting, it almost makes it comical.

    This is by no means a terrible film. But a few relatively minor changes could have easily made this a great film.
  • A must see movie...

    The story about relationship and life, in decisive situations. And also a struggle towards guilts and torments.

    Watching this movie, I'm thinking about how many sorrows and death brought by such horrifying ideology and minds. And how this things still happened to this moment.

    One interesting plot, revealed how the west always want to tell the east what to do, and what they think best for them (which is in fact sometimes it's not). From the moment the military covered up their mistakes and their misjudgement about the country, to the day Sam Waterstone felt guilty about his demand for Dith Pran to stay with him and help his journalism work, while he also told Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor) to get his family off country.

    And the pattern also still happens to this moment.

  • It was hard for me to understand my own emotions after watching The Killing Fields. It was more like watching a documentary with actual events and people than a feature film. I was not able to say or even think anything straight, such was the impact that the film made. Hiang N'gor as Dith Pran lives rather than acts the role; I have never seen any on-screen or on-stage performance to match where the actor put his/her heart and soul into the role that he/she was playing. Before watching the film for the first time over 20 years ago, I had only a disjointed view of the horrors perpetuated by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. But since then, I have visited the country, spoken to the people and can form a far better picture of what happened to it during those terrible years. The film depicts the atmosphere with stunning clarity, complemented by superbly imaginative camera-work and sound effects. Anyone with a but of conscience is going to remember this film for life.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I'm not usually the type of person to say this -- generally, I love a film that starts slow, gives the audience time to get into the story, and is of a longer-than-average length. The Killing Fields, however, was an example of a movie that could have used some major condensing.

    All the scenes portraying Dith Pran's experiences under the Khmer Rouge were exceptionally done, but they were just about the only good things in this film.

    Most of the film felt confused, thrown-together and lacking any sort of direction. It started with the US bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War and jumped all over the place before finally settling into the Khmer Rouge's regime. One needs to have a thorough knowledge of Cambodian history to even vaguely understand what is going on in this film. I had to constantly explain what was happening to my parents while watching, and even I had trouble figuring out exactly what was meant to be happening during the first half of the film or so. They tried to squish the US bombing of Cambodia with the Khmer Rouge regime and it just didn't work.

    There is far too much focus on America and the journalism thing just got in the way. There was almost no exploration of who the Khmer Rouge were and what they were trying to achieve in Cambodia.

    Honestly, the movie could have been great if it was simply edited down, a bunch of scenes taken out, and some more explanation so the audience actually understood what was happening. If it had started with the evacuation of Phnom Penh (perhaps a little before that) and gone from there, and forgot about America for a little bit, it would have been a thousand times better.
  • awiltz25 January 2005
    I recently saw this movie in my Modern War class at school and i was highly impressed. I found that the movie did an excellent job of devoloping its characters while at the same time stayed true to its historic roots. Whether you are a history buff or a drama lover, this movie will suit you. It reveals the horrors that occurred during the Cambodian Genocide episode that occurred some time ago. Despite being dreadful some people tend to forget about this event and this movie does a fine job reminding people of just how arduous a struggle this was to endure for the Cambodians and as we see in the movie some Americans too. I was very happy with this movie and i recommend it to anyone.
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