Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Killing Fields

In 1973 as the war in Vietnam spilled over into Cambodia, New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg began to cover the events with Dith Pran, a Cambodian translator with whom he formed a deep bond. When Saigon fell in '75 and Pran's family was evacuated, Schanberg convinced him to let the opportunity for escape pass and further cover the war. As the Khmer Rouge overthrew the government and committed atrocities worse than anyone had conceived, Schanberg was unable to extradite his friend, and Pran became a victim to the horrific barbarity that ensued. "The Killing Fields" is the searing directorial debut of Rolland Joffé based on an article by Schanberg. It is a well made film shot in muted colors that perhaps best capture the depicted detestable events. The first half of the film lacks urgency and seems to plod along with individual scenes being stretched on for more than they're worth. Sam Waterston's earnestness gets to be a little too much as well, and John Lennon's Imagine played during the end is a little hard to stomach. However, the second half of the movie with Pran in the camps is absolutely riveting and Dr. Haing S. Ngor, also a Cambodian who escaped Khmer Rouge savagery, is great in a brutal, Oscar winning role. John Malkovich also shines in one of his first film roles as a photographer. "The Killing Fields" is a long yet engrossing movie that tells such a terrible story that sadly seems to have faded in the memories of many people.