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A Bright Shining Lie
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Reviews & Ratings for
A Bright Shining Lie (TV) More at IMDbPro »

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17 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

As it really was

Author: jhcc77954 from United States
5 June 2005

The movie showed it like it really was. I did not know Vann, but two Colonels that I know did work with him. It shows who really ran the war in Vietnam. It shows Westmoreland for what he was too. The best part is that it shows how the Military had little or no say in conducting the war. It lets us see that it was a political war and that maybe it could have had a different outcome if it had been pursued correctly. The action is good, and it is authentic. Paxton is intense. His performance is often complimented on that he could have actually been Vann. Or that he could actually have been in a war. TYhe battle sequences are realistic without being overly bloody. The dialog was well presented and was mostly believable.

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12 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Not the Usual Suspects

Author: Robert J. Maxwell ( from Deming, New Mexico, USA
11 April 2002

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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13 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Low budget, but good

Author: Alex from Salt Lake City
2 May 2004

This movie may have low budget production values, but they did a fairly good job. Actual wartime footage is intermingled for good effect, especially in the opening sequence.

I had a bit of a hard time taking Bill Paxton serious in this role at first, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that he did a very credible job portraying Lt. Col Vann with the required swagger.

Though a bit over dramatic at times, and almost falling into cliché, I would have to recommend this movie. My only other criticism would be of the portrayal of the ARVN when under fire. The offices may have been beneath contempt, but when called to duty, the ARVN could mix it up with the best of them. They have been getting an unfair reputation for many years now.

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10 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

A Great Effort

Author: tgtround from England
15 February 2001

While not in the same league as Go Tell The Spartans, which had the presence of Burt Lancaster if nothing else, this is a commendable effort to bring a huge and impressive piece of non-fiction to the screen.

Never shown in the cinema in the UK, my wife and I saw it on imported DVD. She was very impressed (having not read the book) and thought it conveyed something of the complexity of the subject very well and was very enlightening.

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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

A Soldier with a Sordid Past Devoted to a Doomed War

Author: tom-darwin from United States
14 May 2006

Neil Sheehan's masterpiece tells the Vietnam War story through a single biography. John Paul Vann was an American who overcame a humble background & made a distinctive, heroic career as a soldier, adding a beautiful wife & 3 kids along the way. Preparing for promotion to high rank, he went to Vietnam in the early 1960s as an adviser, one of the select few to take the fight against Communism right into combat. But Vann was also a man with deep personal issues: haunting, shaming memories of childhood poverty, a weak father & a libertine mother, leading perhaps to his own aggressive infidelities including one with an underaged girl that nearly led to court-martial. And his "fight" in Vietnam was merely a series of bureaucratic exercises in which the Americans were bogged down by South Vietnamese intrigues, both unwilling & unable to do what was necessary to defeat the Communists. Terry George explores this theme with the steady pace, methodical yet engrossing, that was later such a triumph in the remarkably similar "Hotel Rwanda." Paxton has his work cut out as the very complicated Vann, a dedicated soldier who is not only everything an Army officer should be, but also a true warrior whose devotion to victory trumps his loyalty to the establishment & thus even his own career. Yet Sheehan's Vann has a shocking capacity for self-harm, hating the ignominious background that was not his fault, indulging himself in sexual adventures that wounded his family & threatened his career as readily as he embarked on reckless combat missions. It's all Paxton's show & he takes us on a fascinating odyssey of an officer whose slow realization that the Army would rather lose the war by the book than win it by tossing away the book (it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game?) causes him to leave the Army but, after a short, sad foray into business, return to Vietnam as a civilian administrator who steadily accumulates unique, vast military authority. Paxton's Vann wants to understand Vietnam's people & culture--but only enough to help him in his war effort--leading him to turn his back on his tormented family & take a Vietnamese wife (Wu). But for Vann, everything in his life is devoted to victory, a personal goal, an intense obsession, that he will achieve whether America or Vietnam like it or not. Paxton is suitably restrained, uttering no war cries like Stallone or Norris, making no personal journey of self-awareness or redemption as in "Apocalypse Now" or "Uncommon Valor." The professionalism of the art of war is his mantra, the belief that the everlasting principles of the true warrior will realize the high ideals of democracy & capitalism over the despair of communism. George doesn't give Paxton the opportunity to go too deeply into Vann's personal life (the book WAS very long, after all), so Vann comes across as a complex but not quite complete antihero. The other actors are there to help paint the Vann picture rather than those of their own characters. Madigan is very fine as Vann's loyal wife driven to despair as much by Vann's obsession with the abstract concept of victory as his gross infidelities. The superb Kurtwood Smith gives the best film portrayal of Westmoreland ever on screen--decisive, firm, unapproachable, unhearing--though he has only minutes to do it. Kay Tong Lim is as restrained as Paxton in depicting the clever Colonel Cao, Vann's ARVN partner & as self-serving as Vann is idealistic, who goes from being Vann's great hope to his frustration to his nemesis. The action scenes are low-budget & unremarkable, but audiences were long ago falsely conditioned to view Vietnam as a series of either personal or spectacular cowboy-vs-Indian fights. Vann's presentations for Pentagon & White House big-shots, in which he dramatically holds up handfuls of rice to underscore the importance of winning over Vietnam's farmers, are far more poignant. If the Vann of Sheehan, George & Paxton has a valediction, it's that the war was lost in Washington, not in the field--a view that's hardly original but is still very hard to wrap one's mind around. Many viewers will find "A Bright, Shining Lie" quite unsatisfying entertainment, but that's the problem with dramatizing nonfiction, the risk of presenting a story that's trying to teach. But, if it tries to teach, it doesn't try to preach, and at least the sun doesn't set in the East.

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9 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

I liked it a lot. The movie seemed to capture the earlier years WAR very well

Author: michael-214 ( from Atlamts, GA USA
20 September 1999

I liked this motion picture. The work done in preparation and the use of documentary style presentation was effective, and gave the movie and story credibility. The acting was good. The part of Mary Jane was especially good, given the limited amount of screen time. Amy Madigan seems to have a knack to play the angry housewife/mother. She is GOOD at it. Just enough, not too much, just right! Bill Paxton did a believable job as lead character. The story itself is one that needs to be told over and over again, until the American people get the message of truth and LIES surrounding Viet Nam.

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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Excellent casting

Author: Dené Reynolds from USA
21 May 2000

This made for TV movie was absolutely fantastic as far as I am concerned. I think Dianne Crittenden did an excellent job with the cast. Bill Paxton as John Paul Vann did a great job. I don't really care for Amy Madigan, but she portrayed Mary Jane Vann divinely. Donal Logue made the perfect reporter as well.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

A good effort

Author: jkchou from LA
24 June 2000

For a TV Movie, this film was good. The film didn't look amateurish and the overall quality was generally very good. One scene that especially stood out was when Bill Paxton rushed to the village only to see it get destroyed. However, this movie could have been much better. The most critical error of this movie is that it tries to cover too many elements and ultimately fails to fully address them to any satisfying extent. It lacked focus. There were a lot of good ideas, such as the hidden propaganda, the conflict of war strategy of various people, the familial problems, to the questionable moral and ethical values of the main character..., but most of them were dealt with not more than a dozen lines! In short, this movie needed to be more developed and needed another revision before it was released.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Down to earth Vietnam retrospective

Author: camel-9 ( from Pittsburgh, PA
20 December 1999

The Vietnam experience seen through the eyes of an officer average american with family back home and the good intentions, often rebuffed, that are frustatingly hard to put in place. After "Good Morning Vietnam", which was a non-combat movie about Americans in Vietnam, this one comes close in describing what Americans felt in the war. This movie, however, is still a combat war movie, but sprinkled with family and personal issues, presented straight forward and down to earth. Produced by HBO, it is surprisingly a good production, with good acting.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

The book is so good there is no way the movies can live up to it.

Author: Jakeroo
20 February 1999

However, all hands do a credible job and it's worth watching. However, like most movies about Vietnam, it depressed me: the tragedy & the waste are almost overwhelming!

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