May 12th, 2009

HEAVEN AND EARTH (1993) ***

Le Ly (Hiep Thi Le) is a young Vietnamese girl who spends most of her days working in the fields and being naïve and stuff.  One day, her brothers join up with the Viet Cong and she decides to help out by booby trapping some soldiers.  Their buddies get pissed about that and decide to give her shock treatments and toss a snake down her blouse for the Hell of it.  Afterwards, the Viet Cong get pissed at her too and they rape her for fraternizing with the enemy.  That makes her so mad that she moves to Saigon to make a living selling cigarettes to American G.I.’s.  She ends up having a couple bastard kids which brings great shame on her family to make her karma even worse.  Things start looking up for poor Le Ly when she meets a nice American soldier (Tommy Lee Jones) who marries her and brings her home to the US.  Eventually, he starts showing his true colors and acting like a psychopath; terrorizing her and her brood of children.

 

So basically it’s just one big Depress-O-Thon, courtesy of director Oliver Stone.

 

Heaven and Earth is clearly a lesser film in Stone’s canon.  While I appreciate the fact that he was trying to tell the story from the Vietnamese perspective, that doesn’t necessarily make it entertaining.  It’s nowhere near the same league as Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July.  A lot of the film’s problems stem from Hiep Thi Le’s lukewarm performance.  She’s clearly out of her depth going toe-to-toe with such a seasoned veteran as Jones and although she does an adequate job, she just doesn’t have the chops needed to hold the story together.

 

That’s OK though because Jones is awesome and the scene where he threatens to blow his brains out in front of his wife is some of the best acting he’s ever done.  His scenes are great (although the domestic strife scenes reek of Lifetime Movie clichés) and the flick is worth seeing just for his dynamite performance alone.  On the downside, he doesn’t show up until the movie’s half over.  That’s right; that means you got to sit through a whole lot of depressing You-Go-Girl stuff about Le Ly overcoming life’s obstacles before Jones goes totally bonkers.  (Jones and Stone teamed up the next year for the seminal Natural Born Killers.)

 

Stone did a fine job with the action aspect of the story as well as capturing the feel of 60’s Americana to a tee.  I also dug the cool stylistic touches he brought to the film; particularly in the early scenes where he didn’t show the American soldier’s faces.  (Kinda like what Spielberg did with the government agents in ET.)  Stone also wrote the screenplay for this bad boy and came up with some pretty sweet dialogue like, “I know he’s dead… I can feel it in my womb!”