18 Jun 2015   |   Reviews

Last Days in Vietnam Captures High Drama in Saigon

Last Days in Vietnam is Rory Kennedy’s exploration of the U.S. evacuation of Saigon in April of 1975. The documentary is a melange of interviews with American and Vietnamese participants and footage from the event itself, shot on the streets of Saigon, within the U.S Embassy compound and on the decks of U.S naval vessels waiting offshore to receive refugees. The film casts no overarching judgment of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. It remains fixed and focused on the drama of that tempestuous last act.

And what drama there was. Here are the iconic images — the legions of would-be refugees, clambering about the walls of the U.S. Embassy on what is today Le Duan Boulevard; the Huey helicopters tipped from the decks of U.S. naval vessels offshore; that iconic last helicopter precariously perched on the penthouse of a downtown apartment building while a line of desperate refugees clings to a steep ladder.

No matter your politics on the Vietnam war, it’s hard not to give into the pathos. It was a disastrous end to America’s ill-fated venture in Vietnam, and Kennedy wrings the event for every last opportunity to feel just how deep that disaster was. You come away from the film with an uncanny feeling that she’d had her cameras at the ready in advance for the all the right angles on the resulting drama, though, of course, the documentary was pulled together scrap by scrap nearly 40 years after the fact.

The perceptive visitor to Saigon today will be able to map from some of the scenes in the film to the city today, especially the shots around Lam Son Square. The former U.S. Embassy building, where much of the action took place, was demolished in the mid-1990s, but the U.S. did resume its lease on the property and is where the U.S. consulate stands today.

Released in 2014, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) rates this film at 7.6.