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The Criterion Collection presents
Hearts and Minds (1974)

"Many bombs, many coffins. These are for children. Eight or nine hundred a week. I have lost seven children myself....Poison. Poison. It seems to destroy their interestines. With all this spraying and bombing, so many have died."
- Mui Duc Gieng

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: July 23, 2002

Stars: George Ball, Diem Chau, George Coker, Clark Clifford, Randy Floyd, Nguyen Ngoc Linh, Robert Muller, Walt Rostow, Nguyen Thi Sau, Edward Sowders, Chan Tin
Other Stars: Clark Clifford, Daniel Ellsberg, Nguyen Khanh, William Westmoreland
Director: Peter Davis

Manufacturer: Criterion Post
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, nudity, sexuality, language, disturbing imagery)
Run Time: 01h:51m:57s
Release Date: June 25, 2002
UPC: 037429166321
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Twenty-five years after the end of the Vietnam War, the bitter experience is only a lesson in the history books for over a third of the United States today. But at the time, it was hugely divisive at home, and as this documentary shows, horribly destructive in Southeast Asia. While definitely having a slant, Peter Davis' Oscar®-winning film helps to make us understand what happened if not exactly giving us the reason why.

Shot at the height of the war and while it was winding down, the film takes a roughly chronological view. Allowing the principals to state what their thinking was, whether in later interviews or in news footage from the time, we see a parade of American Presidents vainly trying to justify our extension of the colonial presence of France in Indochina (Eisenhower acknowledges that tin and tungsten interests are central) under the guise of fighting communism. But as we see more of the country and the inability of the American troops to achieve anything resembling a military victory against an elusive and determined foe, the sheer senseless brutality of the scene becomes overwhelming.

Having come from a background of television documentary, director Paul Davis drops the ubiquitous documentary narrator here, and simply lets the story tell itself. Occasionally, this gives rise to creative and effective editing, such as following the bitter weeping of a South Vietnamese family for the loss of their soldier son, juxtaposed with the smug statement of General William Westmoreland that Orientals don't value human life. Intertwined skillfully with the larger political tale are the stories of several American soldiers: George Coker, returning gung-ho after seven years as a POW; Edward Sowders, a deserter returning from life underground, and Randy Floyd, a bomber pilot who only later comes to a realization of just what it is he has done. The dissociation that Floyd reveals is a common thread here; no one could look at this and think of the people of Vietnam as human beings and continue on with business as usual.

At the same time, political figures comment on their viewpoints as they evolved (or did not evolve). Clark Clifford and Daniel Ellsberg relate how they were initially in favor of the war to stem the tide of communism, but gradually came to see the folly of attempting to rescue a country that had no desire to be rescued by an outside occupying force. At the same time, others, such as Westmoreland and Walt Rostow, remained fully convinced of their missions. Davis only trains his camera on people involved in the war; only in a sequence of a few seconds does he look at the war at home, as if those on the home front not involved directly in policy were irrelevant to the discussion.

Intriguingly, these thoughts are combined with interviews not only with some of the Vietnamese leaders but with common, ordinary people, such as the overtaxed casket maker noted in our quotation. This focus on the people upon whom the war had the greatest impact provides the film with a heartfelt grounding that the interviews with the politicos and soldiers cannot provide. The result is deeply moving and a worthwhile memento in these days where saber-rattling becomes more and more common, and mechanized, impersonal war is the order of the day.

Lyndon Johnson said that in addition to the military war, the second war was for the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese people. This film successfully delves into those hearts and minds, as well as the hearts and minds of the Americans at the center of the conflict and under fire, to provide a moving portrait of the war, its effects and its participants.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture looks terrific. Obviously, filming conditions under wartime are less than optimal and there is plenty of grain, but it definitely belongs here. The result doesn't have the sparkly effect one often sees in DVDs taken from grainy film sources, but retains a very filmlike look throughout. Detail, color and definition are all excellent without visible artifacting. The film has hardly any notable damage whatsoever, apparently the result of a first-rate digital restoration.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The 1.0 mono sound is fine, particularly in the interview sequences. They are free of hiss and noise, with decent depth. Some segments including marching bands have good sound and avoid an overly compressed sound. This sounds as good as can reasonably be expected.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Production Notes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Peter Davis
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:56m:34s

Extra Extras:
  1. Historical essays
Extras Review: The sole on-disc extra is a director's commentary. This track is insightful and thoughtful, delivered with a sense of history and perspective gained by the quarter century since the film was made. Davis not only provides background on the making of the film but substantial background information on many of the men interviewed here. Definitely worthwhile. Davis' commentary is supplemented nicely by a series of essays on the background of the film and the history of the Vietnam War. These essays fill a 32-page booklet with a significant amount of valuable content. Chaptering is rather thin but that's one of the few shortcomings of this disc.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

A powerful examination of what went into the Vietnam War and what came out of it; not exactly a probe into causes so much as a look at motives and effects, it spares no one while being sympathetic to nearly all views. One of the great documentaries and highly recommended.


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