I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed with this film. I thought the film was going to be more about Cambodia and the horrors Pol Pot inflicted, but instead it was about a reporter (Sam Waterston) and his Cambodian interpreter (Haing S. Ngor). For about an hour and a half out of the two hours and twenty minutes we get a series of situations in the 1970’s where the reporter has to get his interpreter safe from the Khmer Rouge until finally he can’t and the interpreter is taken away. Then we get a little history lesson about the illegal bombings of Cambodia by the US on the orders of president Nixon. Only after that do we finally get the film most people are watching for as we go back to Cambodia with the interpreter and he lives through Pol Pot’s slaughter.
Aside from a much needed history lesson for younger viewers, this film is worth seeing for the actual story of actor Haing S. Ngor. He was born in Cambodia and was a doctor until the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975. He and his fiancee were tortured. She died during a premature labor. After the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979 his whole family was wiped out–save a niece–and he fled to Thailand. In playing the true life story of Dith Pran he was largely reenacting his own experience. It means that he had to do little acting in order to deliver a powerful performance. It’s tragic when you find out that Ngor died in 1996 when he was shot by gang members in Los Angeles.
There is an important lesson to be learned from what happened in Cambodia, but I am sure there are better films to teach it. Despite the drawbacks, it’s worth a look.