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A Bright Shining Lie (1998)

R | | Drama, War | TV Movie 30 May 1998
1:09 | Trailer

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True story of Army man John Paul Vann, whose military success provided him the fulfillment he never found in his personal life.



(book), (teleplay)
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 3 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Bo Eason ...
William L. Mansey ...
Robert L. Hull ...
'Josh' Somsak Orajan ...
Vann's ARVN Driver
Bill Whelan ...
Seng Kawee ...
VC Leader (as Kawee 'Seng' Sirikhanerut)
Kajie Khan ...
Madame Nhu (as Kajie Kahn)


Something in his past keeps career Army man John Paul Vann from advancing past colonel. He views being sent to Vietnam as part of the US military advisory force a stepping stone to promotion. However, he disagrees vocally (and on the record) with the way the war is being run and is forced to leave the military. Returning to Vietnam as a civilian working with the Army, he comes to despise some South Vietnamese officers while he takes charge of some of the U.S. forces and continues his liaisons with Vietnamese women. Written by Ron Kerrigan <mvg@whidbey.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


In war as in life the difference between truth and deception is what a man allows himself to believe.


Drama | War

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for war violence and some language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

30 May 1998 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Mentiras de guerra  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


John: It is not true that we are here to solve problems, sir. WE are the problem.
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Featured in The 56th Annual Golden Globe Awards (1999) See more »


The Twist
Written by Hank Ballard
Performed by Chubby Checker
Courtesy of Dominion Entertainment, Inc.
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User Reviews

Not the Usual Suspects
11 April 2002 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

The ordinary trajectory in a film like this during times like these is for Vann, like Philip Caputo, Ron Kowalsky and numerous other figures before him, to enter the service on the verge of exploding with patriotism, idealism, and gung-ho-ness, then to learn that the Vietnamese war was a big mistake as he is turned around by the events he witnesses. Kind of like what happens to David Janssen in "The Green Berets," only in reverse. Not so here. This is a complex and admirable story of a complex and not entirely admirable man. He is sent to Vietnam as a Lt. Colonel, bursting with enthusiasm and with his eye on promotions, true, but he does not undergo an epiphany in which God or the Buddha appears shaking a finger at him. He wants to win the war but feels it's being fought inefficiently. We need to coopt the communist revolution by getting rid of the corrupt and cowardly Vietnamese officers and giving the rice back to the peasants or something like that. He makes his views known to the press and is more or less forced to resign his commission. (The story is a bit murky on this point.) After a few years' dry spell at home he is called back to Vietnam as some sort of civilian advisor who now wears the two stars of a general and issues military orders. He has not lost his enthusiasm or his idealism and comes to believe that we can now win the war by conventional means, even after Tet. He orchestrates a heroic victory over the North Vietnamese army, then his career ends, as does his life. That's not what I would call the usual ten-cent trajectory in character development. It isn't nearly linear enough. And in that nonlinearity it resembles life more than it does fiction. Is Vann a hero? Undoubtedly. Is he a good man? Well -- yes and no. After his marriage (to the character played by Amy Madigan) he sleeps with the 15-year-old babysitter. In Vietnam he evidently lies to a beautiful young woman he seduces and tells her he's separated from his wife. On his return to Vietnam he looks up the girl again. She seems just as gorgeous, at least to these eyes, but she's changed her hair or something so he avoids her. Instead he takes up with a schoolgirl and gets her pregnant. When confronted with his self-evident guilt by the girl's father, he marries her. On the other hand, he doesn't smoke or drink. There is an attempt to account for his misbehavior by means of some half-hearted palaver about how his mother was a whore. He was an illegitimate child and blames this status for keeping him out of West Point and getting him booted out of the army. The film betrays itself here if the writers and producers really meant to put forward this information as a pat explanation of his various failures, but if they meant it mainly as the way the protagonist attempts to justify God's ways to Vann, they hit the nail on the head. (Sure I'm flawed. Wouldn't you be, with a mother like mine?) The combat scenes are pretty effective, and so is Ed Lauter, playing a sympathetic guy for a change. Too bad the leads aren't. Whatever "charisma" means, Bill Paxton as Vann doesn't have it, though he looks the part; and the reporter from the New York Times, with whom Vann has a falling out, generates a rather large hole whenever he is on screen. The girls are indescribably delicious. Neil Sheehan, on whose book this story was based, has a tendency to stretch for drama and characters that aren't there. His earlier book could not turn the Captain of the USS Vance into Queeg. But judging from this film, he has presented a more complicated picture of a man here, a more adult portrait, warts and all. All together, the time spent watching this movie is well spent. I'm not sure how close I would like to get to a man who didn't smoke or drink and who called down artillery fire on his own position but it's fascinating to know something about him at this remove.

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