- Directed by Roland Joffé
- November 2, 1984
Based on the experiences of two journalists-Cambodian Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg-this is their story in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.
As with any fact-based film take events portrayed with a grain of salt. Not everything may be accurate. It is even possible nothing is accurate. I think of A Beautiful Mind, and it is my understanding that beyond the names little matches up with reality. Not sure if that is the case here. And now on to our show…
The Killing Fields packed a lot in and moved at a steady though not brisk pace from start to finish. It didn’t feel overstuffed, but it also felt as if they may have left some elements out or glossed over other things. If this were to be made today, I would suggest a miniseries on a streaming service. Things needed to be explored and I felt some stuff was only touched on.
There is a great deal of blood and gore in this movie, but it’s not done just because they can show it. It’s done to demonstrate the horror of the conflict. It is not lingered on either in the shots. Despite the era there are no real explosions or significant bits of action. You will not get an extended combat sequence where the central characters try to survive.
Sam Waterston plays journalist Sydney Schanberg, one of the central characters in the story. He is a passionate journalist who due his intense need to cover events eventually gets his Cambodian interpreter Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor) put through hell. I don’t think Pran got nearly enough screen time in this movie. At least in the beginning of the film. About halfway to 2/3 through a large chunk is devoted to Pran and his pretty crappy existence after he gets stuck behind with Schanberg falling into the background.
Before watching this, Sam Waterston was the only actor that I knew to be in it this but we also get John Malkovich and Julian Sands in supporting rolls. Malkovich generally plays kind of weird individuals, and his Al Rockoff isn’t that different. His Rockoff is not creepy weird but rather an atypical thinker.
Julian Sands shows up as Jon Swain. Sands is a rather underrated actor who despite having good looks and talent never quite hit it big. He’s been a bit of a niche performer, yet he’s always killed it in every part. Unfortunately he doesn’t get to show too much of his ability here. I’m not sure how much his part could’ve been beefed up, but I think he should’ve given him a little more meat only because I’m a fan.
Having watched plenty of more modern films one thing that jumped out at me was the minimal use of music. There is certainly background music but it’s not as prevalent here as it is in a film from today. What you get is a lot of the ambient sound to put you in the environment in which the story is taking place. I found that an interesting creative choice.
The performances are great here. Sam Waterston doesn’t come off just as an overly passionate journalist but rather a dedicated journalist who gets so wrapped up in doing his job that he doesn’t think about his friend. Later the focus of his life becomes finding Pran and getting him back to his family who by the end of the movie live in the United States
It’s my understanding that Haing S. Ngor was a first-time actor here who later on went to further film work. Prior he was a doctor and used that knowledge to survive the prison camps before escaping Cambodia. His performance was rather effective, and I am guessing that’s because he essentially played himself. That’s not always the best choice but here I don’t think there was really any other option. He clearly drew from what he went through to create his character.
The Killing Fields is a fact-based story that will move you and probably at times shock you. It has strong performances and it’s just a fine bit of drama. However it may not be for everyone. There are no big action pieces and despite its nature it can best be described as quiet so I will give this an if you want. But I think you should want.