Starring: Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich
Director: Roland Joffé
Running Time: 141 mins
The Killing Fields is a British film about the true story of a foreign journalist and his local counterpart who are caught up in the brutal genocide campaign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
A sobering topic like this merits a film with a powerful and dark atmosphere, and a riveting historical perspective on not just the internal turmoil in Cambodia during the 1970s, but also of the wider international context, all brilliantly played out in stunning emotional fashion through the central relationship between two men separated by the worst injustices of all.
In short, there’s a lot to digest when it comes to The Killing Fields, but nothing about the film stands out more than its fantastic historical commentary. Unlike a lot of Vietnam War films, which are generally purer out-and-out war films that have a generally anti-war agenda, this film looks at a different situation with a completely different perspective, proving a riveting account of both the events in Cambodia as well as the role of the United States throughout the turmoil.
The portrayal of the brutality of the Khmer Rouge is very heavy-going from beginning to end, and their terrible injustices truly do get under your skin throughout, making for an incredibly powerful watch. Furthermore, the chaos that erupts from what is a fairly peaceful state of affairs is terrifying to witness, and director Roland Joffé does a fantastic job at portraying the breathless and life-changing decision making that many of the people affected at the time had to face.
But it’s not just a history of the events within Cambodia, as along with our American journalist, we get an enthralling insight into the USA’s own role at the time. Unlike the Vietnam War, there was no face-to-face military conflict between the US and the Khmer Rouge, as the country rather used its position in the region to try and influence the events within Cambodia. As a result, while the film gives a sobering account of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge under the direction of Pol Pot, it also proves a thought-provoking look into the somewhat vague role of the US at the time, adding another level of intrigue throughout.
What’s even better about the film is that it’s not just a fact-driven history movie, but one with real, deep emotion. The historical setting surrounds the relationship between two men, an American journalist and the Cambodian man who assists him during his time in the country. Played by Sam Waterston and Haing S. Ngor, the two have effortless chemistry from the first moment, with realistic conflict and friendship portrayed brilliantly throughout, allowing you to really connect with them on a deep emotional level.
And that comes into play in stunning fashion as the story unfolds, as the two men find themselves separated by the turmoil, leading one to work desperately to find the other before the madness swallows him up as well.
As a result, while the film is historically fascinating, it’s all the more impressive on another level, with that powerful and riveting relationship taking a central role in proceedings, and making for as emotionally enthralling a watch as historically engrossing.
Overall, I was fascinated by The Killing Fields. Undoubtedly the best film that focuses on the Cambodian Genocide, with sobering historical truths that portray the horrors and atrocities committed within the country, as well as the vaguer movements of powers outside, all the while centring on an emotionally powerful and endlessly engrossing central friendship that will move you to the core, and that’s why I’m giving this a 7.8.