The Killing Fields

1984

The Killing Fields

Critics Consensus

Artfully composed, powerfully acted, and fueled by a powerful blend of anger and empathy, The Killing Fields is a career-defining triumph for director Roland Joffé and a masterpiece of American cinema.

93%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 42

92%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 23,086
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Movie Info

Covering the U.S. pull-out from Vietnam in 1975, New York Times reporter Sidney Schanberg relies upon his Cambodian friend Dith Pran for inside information. Schanberg has an opportunity to rescue Dith Pran; instead, the reporter coerces his friend to remain behind to continue sending him news flashes.

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Cast

Sam Waterston
as Sydney Schanberg
John Malkovich
as Al Rockoff
Julian Sands
as Jon Swain
Craig T. Nelson
as Military Attache
Spalding Gray
as U.S. Consul
Bill Paterson
as Dr. Macentire
Athol Fugard
as Dr. Sundesval
Tom Bird
as US Military Advisor
Ira Wheeler
as Ambassador Wade
Joan Harris
as TV Interviewer
Joanna Merlin
as Schanberg's Sister
Jay Barney
as Schanberg's Father
Mark Long
as Noaks
Sayo Inaba
as Mrs. Noaks
Mow Leng
as Sirik Matak
Chinsaure Sar
as Arresting Officer
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Critic Reviews for The Killing Fields

All Critics (42) | Top Critics (8)

Audience Reviews for The Killing Fields

  • Nov 15, 2013
    A horrific tale of Cambodia and a foreigner's relationship to a native in trying to get him out of his war torn country. Despite the plethora of Vietnam movies, this remains the only major film on the Cambodian conflict. It maintains its power.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Oct 13, 2013
    With the film's gut-wrenching first half devoted to depicting with gritty realism and a beautiful cinematography the takeover of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge, the second half relies on Ngor's superb performance to show a man in an amazing struggle to escape from hell.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Mar 03, 2013
    'The Killing Fields' (1984) is pretty deep and definitely well-acted. In fact it won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Best Editing and Best Cinematography. And I love the original score created by Mike Oldfield. The music is done in this weird and atmospheric way that adds on to the horrific scenes of violence. It's very impacting, but not emotional scaring. This movie didn't ruin me from the inside because of all the bloody deaths of people including small innocent children, but it's definitely something that will be remembered for how upsetting it was because of the history. No film can get more realistic than this.
    Noah N Super Reviewer
  • Mar 29, 2012
    Since when did they let British people make movies about the Vietnam War? Man, a year before this film alone, they were iffy about Oliver Stone, an red-blooded American veteran from the war, making "Platoon"; but hey, in all fairness, the guy is so crazy and offensive that you could sense it before he even really got his career moving. Maybe the Brits fooled everyone with that poster, because with this film's name and that old West-lookin' poster, you'd think that this is the most tobacco-spittin'-ist, gun-shootin'-ist Western that we've ever seen, and I know that sounds like yet more American territory, but really, if they'd let the Spanish and the Italians be icons of the Western film genre, I think that we could at least cut the Brits some slack. Of course, we're not talkin' Westerns; we're talkin' about 'Nam, and everyone knows that it's only the Americans' job to go to war with most every major Asian nation. It's no place for the Brits, unless they're planning on having a war with the Vietnamese to see who is more obnoxious, and even then, it would be kind of underwhelming, seeing as the Brits would lose by lunch, because the Vietnamese had to have been the most obnoxious people on Earth in the '60s. Yeah, I know that's very offensive, but really, although a lot of them weren't that bad back then and certainly aren't that bad now, let's see you come back and be totally tolerant after they've thrown you're buddies on fecal matter-covered spikes, sent children out with grenades and robbed you, all while yelling at you in the most obnoxious jibber-jabber... you bunch of Brits. Still, I must admit that although you weren't really there, y'all know how to still make some pretty decent Vietnam war films, though not quite good enough to drown out the missteps that tragically triumph over potential yet again. With this being a British Vietnam War drama from the mid-80s, it should almost go without saying that this thing is dry and even kind of dull, dragging along very quietly with a loose grip on both editing and tension. This of course damages the film's compellingness, which was already tainted from the get-go by offering very little immediate development, and as the film continues, it fails to make up for that immediate lapse in development by providing very little exposition. The two aspects of slowness and a lack of exposition, when combined with the kind of repetition that plagues this film, form a dreadful mix that often means one thing: Nothing. Well, sure enough, for long periods in the film, absolutely nothing happens, and when something does happen, it's so messily tacked on the shaky line that is this film's storytelling. This concept of portraying the horrors of the Vietnam War through the eyes of the innocents caught in the middle, as well as the journalists that went to find something unthinkable brutal, only to find far more than they ever could have expected, is wildly inventive and potentially stellar, but in execution, the unique concept is done an injustice by a tone that's both dry and unrefreshing. However, for every misstep this film makes in executing its ambitious concept, it will pull a right move. It may not always be a smooth film, but it is one that will make you think, because although the film is not as provocative as it could have - nay - "should" have been, you'll still walk away with plenty to chew on. As much as I joke about how everyone is portraying the enemies of the Vietnam War as wildly obnoxious and evil, there were plenty of victims on both sides, and even between the battlefields, and when this film removes the reigns and tells it like it is, things get pretty hardcore. Whether it be a shot to the face, cries of fear, dismemberment, children taking shrapnel or all-around pandemonium, Roland Joffé doesn't shy away, but neither does he focus so deeply on the brutality to where it's manipulative. The film is harsh, violent and ultimately effective, which isn't to say that Joffé only nails the brutality of the situation, because there will be points where the fine score, lovely cinematography and sharp editing all supplement Joffé's tender, thoughtful atmosphere and create sharp emotional resonance that may not be in the film enough, but really wake you up, if not just plain break your heart. Joffé may be the very man that keeps this film from being truly powerful, but when he delivers, he knocks you cold, being matched in resonant skill only by his performers, all of whom are excellent, with leads Sam Waterston and Haing S. Ngor standing out the most. In the beginning of the film, Waterston's Sydney Schanberg character is a charismatic, professional one, but as he walks through the most horrifying sights that no man should see, defeat and anguish falls upon him little by little, a fact emphasized particularly well during a scene in which he's looking through unspeakably horrible footage and listening the operatic music in the midst of it all, and with all of the jaw-dropping, real gore and sweeping music, the thing that catches your eye the most in that sequence is Schanberg's cold, broken and lifeless face, racked with anguish in one of the many definitive testaments to both the Sydney Schanberg character and Sam Waterson's acting abilities that you can find throughout the film. The same, if not greater amount of praise goes out to Haing Ngor, who's portrayal of a clever and skilled, yet still very civilian and honorable man caught in the most dangerous of situations is believable, emotional and haunting. These two men, and others, go through the most senseless, godless of horrors, and while the flaws in the final product keep it from being a truly impacting portrait on war, the performances are among the most key aspects that make this film as effective as it ultimately is. When the horrors die down, there's still much to be desired in the execution of this should-be distinctively brilliant, very unique concept, as it is plagued by limited exposition, as well as some repetition and storytelling that's both unrefreshing and often fairly dull, yet the film will often make up for some its mistakes with glowing moments carried by an assured and appropritately disturbing, when not deeply emotional atmosphere set by both the imperfect Roland Joffé's and his consistently stellar cast, headed by the hauntingly powerful Sam Waterston and Haing S. Ngor, both of whom play two of the biggest parts in making "The Killing Fields" a generally compelling and ultimately provocative portrait on the brutality of war through the eyes of the mere observers caught in the middle. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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