last days in vn posterAs I headed out to see Rory Kennedy’s latest documentary, I stuffed a few tissues in my pocket, preparing for a “sit and sob,” my term for moving cinematic experiences. I was correct about the sobbing, but I couldn’t have predicted the deep emotional impact of this film.

The title is self-explanatory. Last Days in Vietnam details the final evacuations of American military personnel before the fall of Saigon in April 1975. Well, they were supposed to be evacs of American military.

Many servicemen refused to leave behind their Vietnamese colleagues who had risked their lives to help Americans. These American soldiers decided to go against US policy and committed illegal acts to get their Vietnamese associates (and the associates’ families) out of Vietnam.

Whatever you think you know about those last days, you won’t know many of the stories told in this film. I was there during those days, my family and I were eyewitnesses to some of the events being recounted on screen, and we still didn’t know much of what Kennedy uncovered. That’s because a lot of the footage and photos have never been seen before, the films sitting undeveloped in a vault for almost 40 years before Kennedy unearthed them.

This docu is not political. It’s about humanity, people doing the right thing, commiting selfless actions at great risk to their own safety. And the film doesn’t just feature the American point of view (Henry Kissinger is one of the interviewees). It includes the Vietnamese perspective, allowing civilians to add their voices to the story.

uss kirkThe result is more suspenseful than many thrillers I’ve seen, more heartrending than Hollywood tearjerkers, with everyday people becoming real-life heroes in impossible situations. I wouldn’t have believed some of the stories if I hadn’t seen the photographic and videotaped evidence right there on screen. A woman throwing her baby out of a helo, hoping people on a US Navy ship below would catch her? For much of the film I was agape, wondering, “How much courage did that take? How did someone get that shot?”

If you have any interest in this part of history, or just in a real story about the worst of times bringing out the best in people, check out Last Days in Vietnam. It’ll have a limited run in select cities throughout October, with a handful of dates in November and December.

Cities include Los Angeles, DC, Nashville, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, and Seattle. Visit the official website for a full listing. While there, you can also see interviews with Rory Kennedy on various programs, including Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.

Nerd verdict: Immense Days



  • Reply
    October 6, 2014 at 6:07 am

    Definitely will be seeing this one, Elyse.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      October 6, 2014 at 8:15 am

      Oh, good! When are you going? Please let me know what you think.

  • Reply
    October 8, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Dear PCN ;-),

    Very well written review! Indeed there were many ordinary people, doing extraordinary things during this time! So lucky to be here in America!

    Take care,

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      October 8, 2014 at 8:10 pm

      Oh, wow! Please excuse me while I nerd out a bit. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Miki!

      Note to those who haven’t seen this film: Miki’s sister is the baby I mentioned above who was dropped out of the helicopter. Miki, who was 6, jumped. 😮

  • Reply
    Keiko Amano
    October 8, 2014 at 10:15 pm

    I hope they show the film beyond December. I want to see the film just by reading your review. I’ll let my other Vietnamese friend know about this.
    Thank you, Elyse.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      October 9, 2014 at 2:49 pm

      If you can’t catch it on the big screen, it’ll air on PBS next April to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

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