Man, America can really be an asshole when it wants to be. LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM kinda drives that point home with a club. Rory Kennedy’s documentary is literally about the final days of the United States presence in Saigon. It is filled with heroes and heartbreak. Blind belief in American exceptionalism and resignation that maybe America isn’t as great as we once believed. Through interviews with military personnel, diplomats, spies and South Vietnamese nationals Kennedy weaves her story of how America simultaneously saved and abandoned tens of thousands of people with ties to the United States who were doomed to be imprisoned or executed. Kennedy posits that the resignation of Nixon emboldened the North Vietnamese to invade the South. The North thought Nixon was crazy and that kept them from making any move on the South. Once they invaded, there wasn’t much to stop them from quickly advancing on Saigon. CIA and military officers tried warning U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin that they needed a plan to get out, but Martin would not believe what was going on right before his eyes. Then there were our Allies. Americans had married Vietnamese women, had children and none of them could be left behind. Then there were the government officials and military officers who helped us fight the North Vietnamese and were doomed if not rescued. So even though Ambassador refused to plan, others planned on the sly. There are obviously too many stories to tell in about two hours. Kennedy cherry picks the most compelling stories and paints her heroes as well meaning, yet flawed. There are acts of tremendous courage on the part of the South Vietnamese and Americans alike. LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM is a fitting final chapter in the failed war. An imperfect plan destroyed good intentions and ultimately lead to failure. But even in those failures there remained hope in optimism because of good people doing good things. Documentaries are tricky. What is presented as truth always has many layers and other perspectives that a filmmaker chooses to leave out. But Kennedy plays it fair and that is high praise. — Alan Yudman


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