Fine documentary chronicles Last Days in Vietnam

by Mark Burger

The war in Vietnam still holds a certain fascination in the American psyche due to the high cost in human lives, the escalating protests that occurred stateside and an outcome that was essentially a defeat. Some of those wounds have never fully healed, and it’s unlikely they ever will.

Filmmaker Rory Kennedy, of the illustrious Kennedy family (daughter of Robert and Ethel), has fashioned a compelling and often relentless documentary in the self-explanatory Last Days in Vietnam.

Forgoing much detail about the circumstances that led this nation into the war “” which have been covered in countless other documentaries “” lends this film a distinction, as it focuses exclusively on the conclusion of the long, terrible, bloody and costly war.

President Richard Nixon’s attempts to end the Vietnam War and achieve “peace with honor” appeared possible with the signing of the Paris Peace Accord in 1973 “” though one observer terms the pact “a masterpiece of ambiguity.”

When Nixon resigned in disgrace a year later, all bets were off, and the North Vietnamese resumed hostilities and their irrevocable march into South Vietnam. It was only a matter of time before Saigon would fall, and absolutely nothing could prevent it, not even the stalwart determination of American ambassador Graham Martin, whose only son was killed in the war, and who remained adamant that the United States would remain a presence in Saigon.

Kennedy has assembled a series of interviews with diplomats (including Henry Kissinger, who won a Nobel Peace prize for the Paris Accord), refugees, historians and servicemen (both American and Vietnamese), who provide an insight into the circumstances surrounding the fall of Saigon and the mass exodus of Vietnamese.

For those viewers old enough to remember the live news broadcasts detailing Saigon’s fall, and even after over 40 years, the old footage still packs a wallop. Yet it’s somehow heartening (and not a little heartbreaking) to know that selfless acts of courage and heroism were still taking place to the very end. It might not have been the peace hoped for, but honor was served.

Last Days in Vietnam is scheduled to open Friday at A/perture Cinemas, Winston-Salem