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The final movie in Oliver Stone's Vietnam trilogy follows the true story of a Vietnamese village girl who survives a life of suffering and hardship during and after the Vietnam war. As a freedom fighter, a hustler, young mother, a sometime prostitute, and the wife of a US. marine, the girl's relationships with men suggests an analogy of Vietnam as Woman and the U.S. as Man. Written by
Keith Loh <email@example.com>
As he did with his first two Vietnam films, "Platoon" and "Born on the 4th of July", Oliver Stone creates a powerful tale of the devastation of the Vietnam War. What makes this movie so unique, both from Stone's earlier work and virtually every other American movie about the Vietnam War, is that "Heaven and Earth" is told from the perspective of a Vietnamese woman. This movie is based on two books of memoirs written by Le Ly Hayslip, a Vietnamese woman who grew up in a simple farming village in central Vietnam but whose life --- and those of most Vietnamese people, we can infer --- is turned upside-down by the madness of the Vietnam War.
Strictly as a movie, this is a good but not great film. Even at almost 2 1/2 hours, the structure is a bit stilted in order to accommodate such an extensive story. The first 30 minutes are mostly voice-overs and the movie doesn't pick up steam until later, when scenes are allowed to flow for extended amounts of time and we become caught in the drama. Tommy Lee Jones gives another brutally realistic performance as a lifetime military man who can't leave the war behind. Hiep Thi Ly is okay as Le Ly Hayslip; not Tommy Lee Jones caliber acting, but she competently plays a very difficult role. I read she was an amateur actress only chosen after an extensive casting call, and I'm glad that they decided to go with an actual young Vietnamese woman instead of choosing a generic asian actress. It might not make a difference to most, but it certainly felt more "real" to me with an authentic Vietnamese-American in the main role. Oliver Stone shows his mastery of mood and camerawork as he jumps from the beauty of the Vietnam countryside, to the ravages of war, to the shocking (for Le Ly) wealth of suburban America. The movie occasionally drags but overall I'd still give it an 8 out of 10 because it's such a powerful and important addition to the cinematic depiction of the Vietnam War.
The movie also inspired me to read the 2 books ("When Heaven and Earth Changed Places" and "Child of War, Woman of Peace") it was based on. Stone had to compress many events in order to fit the run time; for example, the Tommy Lee Jones character is a fabrication based on 3 different men (and probably meshed into one man as much for the drama such an explosive character provides as for the time constraints), while her books spend extensive time on all 3 relationships. However, the dialogue for several key scenes were taken almost word for word from her books, and I thought it captured the spirit of the story remarkably well, especially for a major studio movie. I highly recommend anyone interested in the film or in the war to read these books, and I commend Oliver Stone for making a trilogy of important films not just for cinema, but for American history.
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