As we sit and stare in horror at the repercussions of American intrusion into Middle Eastern affairs, as regional instability leads inexorably to power vacuums and newly-declared states, it’s worth considering that similar things happened not too long ago in a different part of Asia. After the USA’s leading role in the Vietnam war proved a disastrous folly (“never get involved in a land war in Asia” as Vizzini says in The Princess Bride), the results of their heavy-handed militaristic action allowed the Khmer Rouge to present themselves as a party of peace and eventually take control (a simplified précis, but this is a film blog). The rest is harrowing, genocidal history, documented here unfashionably but essentially as British director Roland Joffe (who would go on to helm The Mission) confronts the legacy of Western intervention and subsequent abandonment with devastating results.

Essentially a story of two real-life journalists, one American and one Cambodian, the screenplay was adapted from one of their articles in The New York Times by Bruce Robinson (who later wrote and directed Withnail & I strangely enough, as well as the underrated How to Get Ahead in Advertising). It therefore has a terrific journalistic eye for human detail – everything is meticulously researched and as true to life as realistically possible, with an almost documentary-like approach to events. The cinematographer Chris Menges vividly brings Cambodia to life, and both leads do hugely admirable, restrained work – Sam Waterston makes you wonder why his career never quite hit such heights again, and the frankly incredible Haing S Ngor shows as much truth as you’d expect from a first-time actor who had survived the Khmer Rouge regime personally. It’s that kind of film – as much a living testament to what took place as anything else.

Relevance to other modern-day events in Asia9
Authoritative, authentic journalistic approach8
Sam Waterston pretending to feel the pain of what took place8
Haing S Ngor actually feeling the pain of what took place9
An important document of under-reported events8
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
Bechdel Test Failures
  • I can't remember a scene where they talk to each other
8Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)

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