Peter Davis’ Hearts and Minds is a landmark documentary: a bold, uncompromising investigation into the American involvement in Vietnam War made while the war was still raging (though released after the American withdrawal). Something so critical of the sitting government may not seem so revolutionary today—you see that on the cable news channels every night—but in the early seventies it was such a provocative position that the studio balked at releasing the film. I wrote about it for the Turner Classic Movies website.
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Peter Davis’s documentary on the American involvement in the war in Vietnam debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 1974, just a year after the American withdrawal and months before the resignation of President Richard Nixon. With the debate over the war still raging, Hearts and Minds became almost as controversial itself. Critics called it one-sided and anti-American, and indeed the film does not address the atrocities inflicted upon American soldiers by the Viet Cong. But then it was never Davis’s intention to present an objective history of the war. The title was taken from a phrase used by President Lyndon Johnson to justify the escalation of American involvement in Vietnam: “the ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there.” That phrase frames the film. Looking back on the film in 2001, Davis explained that he went into the film with three questions on his mind: “Why did we go to Vietnam, what did we do there and what did the doing in turn do to us? I didn’t expect the film to answer those questions, I expected it to address those questions.”
Read the complete feature at TCM here. Plays on Sunday, November 14. Also available on DVD.