Vital, illuminating, and terrifying, Rory Kennedy's Last Days in Vietnam probes with clarity and thoroughness one moment of recent American history that has too long gone unreckoned with. Here, in then-contemporary news footage and startlingly frank latter-day interviews, is the wrenching story of how it came to be that in 1975 U.S. citizens and many South Vietnamese refugees fled a falling Saigon via helicopter — and why so many non-Americans got left behind as the North Vietnamese Army flooded the city. Kennedy and company offers the clarifying context behind the famous photo of a chopper, a roof, and line, running down a ladder, of far too many people waiting to escape. Emboldened by the departure of U.S. troops and the resignation of Richard Nixon, the North Vietnamese marched south; President Ford's pleas for the money to evacuate Americans, embassy personnel, and local Vietnamese allies went unheeded by a Congress sick of the costs of intervention in southeast Asia.
Last Days recounts embassy officials' secret attempts to spirit endangered locals to safety out of the country without the ambassador catching on — and, even more heroically, their efforts to save those left on that roof after Ford called a halt to the airlifts. The footage of boats and copters and refugees is fascinating and upsetting, and the stories of daring measures to save more lives are, in the end, heartening. Henry Kissinger shows up to croak out some sentences -- he acts like Americans were nuts to be war-fatigued by '75 -- but other than the reminder that he still walks around free, this film is stellar, a dead-on stare at the moments this country tries not to remember.