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Following Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989) Oliver Stone completed his Vietnam War trilogy with this heartfelt story of the war as seen through the eyes of a Vietnamese woman.

Subtlety has never been Stone's strong suit but he keeps the sledgehammer in the shed for most of this beautifully filmed and emotionally affecting adaptation of Le Ly Hayslip's autobiographical novels When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and Child of War, Woman of Peace. We meet Le Ly in her village in central Vietnam in 1953, the year before Viet Minh forces routed the French at Dien Bien Phu. "I lived in the most beautiful village on earth" she says in voice-over as magnificent images of impossibly green rice fields and rural tranquillity fill the screen.

Her devastating physical and spiritual odyssey begins in 1963 when she is imprisoned and tortured by the South Vietnamese for assisting the National Liberation Front (later known as Viet Cong) her family supports and her brothers fight for. After her mother (Joan Chen) exchanges her wedding dowry for her freedom, Le Ly relocates to Saigon and the employ of a wealthy family. She falls pregnant to the master of the house and is banished with their son to the naval port of Da Nang where scavenging in garbage dumps and selling herself to American soldiers is part of the survival game. Enter Marine Sergeant Steve Butler (Tommy Lee Jones) and Le Ly, like thousands of her fellow countrywomen, leaves her home for the promise of a better life In America.

Dividing screen time evenly between Vietnam and America, Heaven and Earth is a compassionate and heart-wrenching study of a woman's search for peace under the most adverse of conditions. The struggle between opposing forces whether they be political, religious or racial is powerfully delivered, especially in the second half as Le Ly realises she has exchanged one hardship for another when her marriage to Steve descends into bitterness and finally tragedy.

Even with Stone's occasionally heavy handed treatment the story is so compelling it's impossible not to be moved. Hiep Thi Le gives a remarkable performance as the courageous Le Ly and Tommy Lee Jones is customarily excellent as her deeply troubled husband (the character is an amalgamation of three men featured in Hayslip's memoirs) who is so affected by war he has forgotten how to live in peace. Heaven & Earth is not a great film but it is a very good and important one that offers a long overdue perspective on one of the 20th century's most significant events. Stone's honest and insightful commentary track (he's one of the few directors who ever admits mistakes) and deleted footage that's actually interesting add plenty of value to this welcome release."
Richard Kuipers

Published June 21, 2001

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(US) (1993)

CAST: Hiep Thi Le, Tommy Lee Jones, Joan Chen, Haing S. NgorDebbie Reynolds.

DIRECTOR: Oliver Stone


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: April 18, 2001

SPECIAL FEATURES: Widescreen (2.35:1), Director's Audio Commentary, Deleted
Scenes with Audio Commentary. Languages: English, Italian. Subtitles, English, English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Finnish, Icelandic, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Italian (HOH)

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