Director: Peter Davis
Year Released: 1974
Davis and his camera go everywhere – even inside a Vietnamese brothel with American soldiers ('if only my girl [back home] could see me now') – to criticize the American decision to meddle in the Vietnamese civil war. I'm most startled by how this won the Academy Award for Best Documentary – it wasn't too long ago that Spielberg's flawed but still astonishing Saving Private Ryan was denied Best Picture because of (reportedly) his (and Tom Hanks') ties to President Clinton. Would the Oscar committee vote for something like this today? Yes or no, that's an argument for a different essay. What does matter is that Hearts and Minds is a masterfully edited indictment of our sketchy foreign policy and the leaders who sacrificed countless young lives to fight the evil Communism, and Davis tries to remain impartial by interviewing people that were both for and against the war, and those that thought we won and those that thought we lost. It isn't his fault that the most fiercely Patriotic and self-defensive individuals come across as liars or inhuman (he juxtaposes footage of suffering Vietnamese children crying for the loss of their parents with an interview with Gen. Westmoreland who claims that people of the East 'don't value life'). His camera lingers on the faces of suffering a little too long at times – he doesn't dodge sentimentality or ignore despair – but otherwise his film is invaluable.