28 October 1999 | elipton
The best of intentions...
Vietnam War Story: the Last Days is an extremely well-meaning made-for-cable (HBO, to be specific) Vietnam war film that may hold interest to genre buffs (is there a whole "Vietnam War movie" genre by now? I think there must be!) but is not terribly noteworthy for anyone else.
The film is divided into three segments somewhat unsatisfactorily. The first two are a "Rashomon"-like attempt to portray a violent event from two different perspectives: that of the U.S. soldiers and that of the Viet Cong. Characters from the two sides meet in a hillside clash that is not nearly as significant to anyone as the internal conflicts each side must contend with. In "the Last Outpost", told from the American perspective, the clashes are over racism, drug use, and loyalty- themes we've seen covered better in other Vietnam War flicks. The late Haing S. Ngor (Oscar-winner for "the Killing Fields") puts in a good turn as an Asian officer working with the U.S. military. In "the Last Soldier" the focus is on a few Viet Cong guerrillas including California Xuan Tran as a kid who wants nothing more than to be, just like his grandfather (Chan Mao Doan), a great soldier. The old man, in turn, says he is no soldier but in truth a farmer, forced to fight only by forces beyond his control.
This second segment is certainly the most interesting of the three, since we rarely see the Vietnamese perspective in any depth in these films. Yet even it doesn't escape a few cliched lines of dialogue and forced moments, causing it to be more of a shiny rock than a gem amid the drabness of the rest of the film.
The third segment "Dirty Work" is suspiciously not related to the other two in almost any way- save that it shows us yet a third perspective of the war. This time it's CIA office staff clearing out of Saigon- for a while it looks like it may try to encapsule the womens' perspective of the war (for a truly amazing portrait of how the Vietnam War affected women try the Oscar-nominated 1998 documentary "Regret to Inform") but it really focuses more on the stormy relationship between a Nixon-worshipping director and his nobly defiant subordinate. The women on hand seem to be so only to provide the film with a semi-obligatory love scene. Kudos for doing this without using the tired soldier-prostitute tack we've seen so many times!
In fact kudos for the intentions on this project all around. It's too bad the execution isn't very good. The writing often seems to come from a rejected, unfunny "M.A.S.H." script The cast is okay at best. And I'm not sure this is a 90-minute film rather than a 60-minute one and a 30-minute one scotch-taped together.
Cable movies sure have gotten better since 1989.