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#194 The Killing Fields

(1984, Roland Joffe)

“Here, only the silent survive”

The Cambodian Genocide is one of those major world events that rarely gets brought up much in movies, with the conflicts in neighbouring Vietnam typically getting a greater focus in the wider world of fiction. But it’s an event that should be talked about. Following a civil war in the 1970s, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime took over the country, and proceeded to reconstruct the entire country as they saw fit. Thousands were killed, including the educated and those associated with the previous government, all in the name of restarting the country from scratch, making those who remained into mindless slaves.

One man who helped bring all of this to the attention of the Western world was Sydney Schanberg, a journalist for the New York Times who was in Cambodia as a foreign correspondent for the Vietnam conflict next door, and he witnessed the Khmer Rouge takeover and reported it to the world. The Killing Fields is his story, and the story of his friend, Dith Pran.

It’s 1973, and Schanberg (Sam Waterston) is travelling to Cambodia to meet with Cambodian journalist and NYT interpreter Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor), who leaves because of a miscalculated American bombing run that has hit a Cambodian town instead of a Vietnamese target. During the course of the movie, the Khmer Rouge seize control and all foreign nationals are forced into the embassies, including Schanberg and fellow journalists Al Rockoff (John Malkovich) and Jon Swain (Julian Sands). The result is a chaotic drama which never lets up for one moment.

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