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A Bright Shining Lie [1998 film]
by Terry George
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Amazon.com (ISBN 0783108443, VHS Tape)Based on Neil Sheehan's controversial book about the making of the Vietnam war, this HBO production is told from the perspective of Lt. Colonel John Paul Vann (Bill Paxton), one of the original military advisers sent in 1962 to prop up the fledgling South Vietnamese army against the Viet Cong. Battle-ready and enthusiastic upon his arrival, Vann quickly learns that political and social pressures are causing the South Vietnamese to doctor evidence of their victories and local military brass to take undeserved credit for overhyped battles. As the propaganda draws America ever deeper into a war most people clearly don't understand, Vann takes issue with the corruption and finds his career in tatters--only the beginning of a long journey that piles tragedies upon ironies. Written and directed by Terry George (Some Mother's Son), A Bright Shining Lie has a somewhat rushed and brittle quality to it, made all the more dry by passages from Sheehan's book read, documentary-style, by Donal Logue. But George also makes a case for Vann's more blatant personal contradictions--such as the casualness of his womanizing when he so clearly loves his wife (Amy Madigan)--that only grow as years pass and political myths supporting the war fold over onto themselves. (Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, more or less played in this film by Eric Bogosian, has taken issue with this depiction of Vann's character.) Sustaining the whole project is Paxton's focused, thoughtful performance, and an enduring public hunger to know just what it was that happened in Vietnam. On both counts, the film is well worth seeing. --Tom Keogh
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:59 -0400)
The story of LTC John Paul Vann (Paxton) and his work as a military and civilian advisor in Vietnam over a ten year period (1962-72) until his death in an accidental helicopter crash. As a military advisor, Vann attempted to fight corruption in the Vietnamese army, recognizing the need to build trust among the Vietnamese peasantry. When his recommendations were ignored by the U.S. military, he exposed falsified battle reports and other deceptions to a New York Times reporter, effectively ending his military career. As the war escalated, however, Vann returned to Vietnam as a civilian advisor under Nixon's "Vietnamization" program, ending as the defacto commander of Vietnamese forces in the successful defense of the Central Highlands during the 1972 Easter Offensive. The film also examines Vann's character flaws, the chief of these being his adulterous nature and affairs with Vietnamese women which resulted in a forced marriage to a Vietnamese schoolgirl whom he had gotten pregnant.
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