Hearts and Minds (1974)
d. Peter Davis
Criterion Collection #156
A two hour documentary about America's involvement in Vietnam? Where do I sign up? Hearts and Minds was released in 197-75, when Vietnam was not exactly a settled issue, so he gets extra credit for timeliness. Fog of War by Errol Morris is great but releasing the film 40 years after the events provides a less visceral audience reaction. The combination of documentary footage and interviews isn't dated in the least. Hearts and Minds is never slow or dull. Considering the royal shit storm we've tossed at the Syrian government for using Chemical Weapons, it is shocking to see the United States using them like it wasn't even an issue in the late 1960s. The Vietnam War was...not that long ago.
I guess it wasn't a war crime because the U.S. didn't agree NOT to use chemical weapons until the 1990s- something I looked up midway through this film. Because the footage is so close to the actual events, some of the personalities are shocking- General Westmoreland, head of the American war machine, casually claiming that "Orientals" "don't value life;" is particularly vile. To this credit, Clark Clifford, who was secretary of state during a portion of the War is already on the record talking about what a huge mistake Vietnam was.
It's equally obvious that Davis thinks Vietnam was a huge mistake. Watching the film, I'm wondering if there are any people left anywhere who think that Vietnam was anything besides a colossal mistake. The usage of chemical weapons... it makes the responsible civil and military leaders in the United States look like war criminals. I hate to say that, but it really doesn't even seem like a close question by the standard of 2013.