Nominated for 7 Academy Awards and winning 3, most notably for Dr. Haing S. Ngor for Best Supporting Actor, THE KILLING FIELDS is a potent document about a horrific time in world and human history.
Based on a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times magazine story by Sidney Schanberg (Sam Waterston), the film recounts his friendship with his interpreter, Dith Pran (Dr. Hang S. Ngor) during the U.S. pullout from Vietnam. Pran was forced to stay behind in Cambodia when Schanberg was deported with the other foreign journalists and the two were not reunited until many years later after Pran was able to escape imprisonment and torture from the Khmer Rouge.
Directed by Roland Joffé, THE KILLING FIELDS is dry and sobering and presented in a cinema verite style. Playing for realism, the dialogue is very subdued and there are no subtitles for any dialogue not in English. This creates quite a bit of tension, because like the journalists in the film, we have no idea what is being said even at times where a wrong word could mean life or death for them.
Like many of the director’s later works (particularly THE MISSION and CITY OF JOY), THE KILLING FIELDS requires the viewer to pay attention and be pulled in by the material. Not much expository information is given which can be challenging if you don’t have an intimate knowledge of the actual events. But the film is as much about the human as well as the historic aspects and it is both Schanberg’s and Pran’s unwillingness to give up hope that they will once again find one another that is the true heart of the story.
Haunting and harrowing, THE KILLING FIELDS is a heavy film and at well over 2 hours in length, you’re going to want to be in a certain mood to view it. But it’s a thought-provoking film that hasn’t lost any of its power since its release over 30 years ago.