The Killing Fields (Roland Joffé, 1984) - Beginning in 1973 the film is set in Cambodia at the time of the US withdrawal from neighbouring Vietnam. The result of the US military's decision to escalate its campaign into neutral Cambodia, was the outbreak of a civil war between the Cambodian national army and the Communist Khmer Rouge. This conflict forms the backdrop to the events depicted in the film, which we see through the eyes of Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran, two journalists from the USA and Cambodia respectively.
However, the film is more than just a basic re-telling of historical events. The deterioration of the situation within Cambodia during the 1970s is a major focus, and the film leaves the audience with no doubt as to the nature of the atrocities committed under Pol Pot's regime. That said, at the heart of the film is the friendship between the two previously mentioned journalists. Sam Waterston and Haing S. Ngor are both excellent in these two main roles, and are well supported by a cast which also includes John Malkovich. Crucially this humanist approach does not detract attention away from the suffering of the Cambodian people, which the film emphasises in a manner which is moving, and not at all preachy.
Where the film succeeds best though is in its brilliant cinematography. The film was shot on location in Thailand, and Chris Menges' photography ensures that everything from the landscapes, to the scenes of human suffering are well presented. The overall result is a powerful piece of cinema, which easily ranks alongside the wealth of excellent films, which similarly critique the role of the US military in neighbouring Vietnam.
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