‘Vietnam War’ long, lit­er­ate, last­ing epic

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE -

Revisiting the Vietnam War for 18 hours rep­re­sents a huge chal­lenge. But view­ers who sign on for PBS’ “The Vietnam War” will wit­ness a thought­ful doc­u­men­tary that by­passes well-worn ide­o­log­i­cal ruts and gives to­day’s po­lar­iza­tion valu­able con­text.

“The Vietnam War,” air­ing to­day through Thurs­day this week and next, comes from Ken Burns (“The Civil War”) and Lynn Novick. Al­though they like to go big, they find mean­ing in in­di­vid­ual sto­ries about the U.S. in­volve­ment in South­east Asia in the 1960s and ’70s.

Two of the most mem­o­rable fo­cus on Pri­vate First Class Den­ton Winslow “Mo­gie” Crocker Jr., killed at 19 in 1966, and Hal Kush­ner, an Army doc­tor who was a pris­oner of war for 5 and a half years.

The film­mak­ers stitch to­gether the many sto­ries in an epic tapes-

try, us­ing Ge­of­frey Ward’s lit­er­ate script as a frame­work. Vet­eran/ au­thors Tim O’Brien, Philip Ca­puto and Karl Mar­lantes are among the dozens of speak­ers who share their sto­ries and of­fer co­gent in­sights. “Cer­tain blood was be­ing shed for un­cer­tain rea­sons,” O’Brien says.

There are speak­ers who fought for South Vietnam, North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. They, too, sup­ply wrench­ing sto­ries about loss and de­spair.

“The Vietnam War” ex­pertly mixes a vis­ual his­tory (maps, pho­to­graphs and news footage) with vin­tage rock songs and haunt­ing new mu­sic by Trent Reznor and At­ti­cus Ross.

The se­ries ex­plores pres­i­den­tial de­ci­sions made se­cretly, stupidly and ar­ro­gantly. Pri­vate record­ings chart Lyn­don John­son’s fum­bling and Richard Nixon’s de­cep­tion. In North Vietnam, Le Duan — not Ho Chi Minh — was the real power and one whose hubris was costly. South Vietnam was plagued by cor­rupt, au­to­cratic lead­ers.

The se­ries prizes ev­ery­day peo­ple. It salutes the gal­lantry of U.S. ser­vi­cepeo­ple de­spite the gov­ern­ment’s er­rors, lies, coverups and ob­ses­sion with kill ra­tios.

The poignant fi­nal part ex­am­ines the Vietnam Veter­ans Me­mo­rial, once con­tro­ver­sial and now beloved. The PBS se­ries is like that land­mark: chal­leng­ing, elo­quent, deeply mov­ing.

Eigh­teen hours is daunt­ing, but also time well spent in un­der­stand­ing dis­as­trous paths taken,

Hal Boedeker The TV Guy

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