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The Killing Fields

The Killing Fields

Running Time: 
2 Hours, 22 Minutes

Academy Award Winning 1984 film about the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, The Killing Fields, gets a 30th Anniversary edition Blu-ray release, and you should see it, especially if you haven't already.

The Killing Fields were the name given to a number of areas outside the cities in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge came in, at first celebrated because they were going to stop the fighting, and quickly set about enacting new policies under their leader, Pol Pot, resetting the country to the Year Zero, washing away what had come before and building a new radical future. They never quite got to the new radical future part, but they did kill lots and lots of people, those who resisted and those deemed to be too much of the old world - teachers, artists, doctors, intellectuals, and they buried them in mass graves... The Killing Fields.

The movie focuses on two journalists: Cambodian Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg. For a few years, they covered the struggle in Cambodia for The New York Times, but in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge swept in, many Cambodians had to flee the country. As things heat up, Schanberg secures safe passage from Pran and his family, but Pran stays to help cover the events, a lucky thing as he is able to save the lives of Schanberg and other journalists when they are taken by the Khmer Rouge. The journalists head to the French embassy for safety, which lasts until the Khmer Rouge demand that all Cambodian be handed over. After a botched attempt to forge a passport for Pran, he is forced to turn himself in.

Here the men part ways, Schanberg returns to the States and Pran is taken to a re-education camp. The Khmer Rouge are taking the country back to an agrarian way of life by force. The rest of the film is hard to watch... hard because it is based on true events. Knowing that things like this happen in the world makes me sad.

In making this film, first time feature director Roland Joffé, gathered together a cast of accomplished but lesser known actors, so as not to detract from the material. Sam Waterston, who most people know from his 16 years on TV show Law & Order, takes on the role of Sydney Schanberg, with John Malkovich and Julian Sands portraying other journalists. The real star, however, is Dr. Haing S. Ngor, a complete unknown. With no prior acting experience, and initially not wanting to take the role, Ngor used his personal experience escaping from the Khmer Rouge himself - a journey that cost him most of his family - and imbued the performance with enough soul to earn him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

For me, the most powerful element of The Killing Fields, beyond the impact of the story itself, is the decision not to translate and subtitle the foreign languages. A Brittish film intended for an audience in the UK and US, the movie is filled with long sequences where people speak Cambodian and the viewer is left to judge what is being said by the tone and action. It is a testament to everyone involved that following those scenes is not hard at all. The emotion and weight of each one pours from the screen.

The Blu-ray release for the 30th Anniversary includes a booklet, built into the case, containing pictures and background on the characters, actors, story and filming. The movie has a full length audio commentary by director Roland Joffé and is definitely worth watching the film a second time.

Review by Jason Pace
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