Hearts and Minds Movie Review

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Peter Davis's Hearts and Minds is an archetypal "important" documentary about the war in Vietnam. It's very sympathetic to the Vietnamese (which I am not saying is a bad thing), damning the war and the government to the point where I'm surprised it wasn't somehow censored on release.

Many of Davis's interviews are damning -- soldiers, former government officials, and draft dodgers -- but it's his chats with Vietnamese nationals that do the worst. One man is shown building coffins for children. Another cries that Nixon has murdered his two children and his mother. The archival footage of burning huts, air raids, Agent Orange sprayers, etc. only make his case even stronger.

But even when Davis tries to do his duty by interviewing the other side, he selectively edits to make the military look stupid, brutal, violent, pig-headed, corrupt, or worse (namely: obsessed with Asian hookers). I don't really doubt these traits are present, but Davis really goes out of his way to make the government look bad.

If Davis weren't so obviously compromised, I'd say his Hearts and Minds was the most uncompromising look at the Vietnam War you'll find. In a way, it is: It doesn't skirt the issues and it doesn't flinch in showing you the war as it really was. But Davis also tends to gloss over the loss of American life in the country -- that the soldiers who were sent there to fight and die really had no choice in the matter. Making them look stupid only deepens the wounds.

The Criterion DVD features a commentary track from Davis -- quite explanatory but a little apologetic, too.

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Comments

Hearts and Minds Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 1974

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