Hearts and Minds Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
“The ultimate victory will depend on the hearts and minds of the people who actually live out there.” – Lyndon B. Johnson
It’s normal and peaceful enough: Vietnamese people working as they do, warding off the heat however they can. And then a few soldiers walk by, armed with guns and ammunition. We know then what we are about to witness.
There’s a scene not long after that takes place in a small New Jersey town, where citizens are hosting a celebration for a veteran coming home from the war. He talks about faith and his hometown and then credits his survival to his training and his country, which all sounds so coached (which foreshadows another soldier’s words while surrounded by gunfire: “They say we’re fighting for something, but I don’t know.”). And then he goes on about communism, a topic that director Peter Davis presses interviewee Walt Rostow on. When Rostow, who served as an aide to both JFK and Lyndon Johnson, can’t come up with a feasible response, he fumbles, stalls and replies, “Are you really asking me this silly goddamn question?”
So many of the interviewees sound just as defensive, jaded, paranoid and duped. There are clips of Joseph McCarthy, J. Edgar Hoover and various soldiers trying to justify what went on. And then, more importantly, there are those that are more intent on opening their eyes and speaking the truth. It’s these comments, and unsettling moments like when a Vietnamese man discusses all of the poison dropped on the land while he takes a break from building coffins, that serve the picture.
Some might initially think HEARTS AND MINDS, which was released in 1974, is anti-soldier or pro-Vietnam (the country/people, not the war itself), but it is neither. It is simply against what happened. The primary complaint about HEARTS AND MINDS is that it’s biased, and that while those that supported the war are given their chance to talk, they are soon shot down and rendered null.
HEARTS AND MINDS definitely takes a side, but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, as a documentary doesn’t have to play down the middle, especially on a controversial topic. A number of documentaries opt to stay objective, but such an approach here would seem like a waste. Davis (who would receive a Primetime Emmy nomination for the 1982 six-part miniseries MIDDLETOWN) disapproves of the reasonings and excuses and interrogation techniques and sees no reason to hide it. One of the key purposes of HEARTS AND MINDS isn’t to let the audience decide whether the Vietnam War was a good idea or not, but to tell them it wasn’t.
Is HEARTS AND MINDS propaganda? Maybe so (especially considering Michael Moore has named it as an influence), but that doesn’t have to be a bad word. Above all, HEARTS AND MINDS is an expertly directed and edited work. This is essential viewing and a prime example of what the genre is capable of: angering, calling out lies and enlightening.
HEARTS AND MINDS won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
HEARTS AND MINDS CRITERION COLLECTION BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.85:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit DataCine from the Academy Film Archive’s restored 35 mm interpositive, which was produced under the supervision of director Peter Davis and cinematographer Richard Pearce. Thousands of instanes of dirt, debris, scratches, and splices were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s DVNR was used for small dirt, grain, and noise management.”
Criterion boasts a much cleaner image than their 2002 DVD of HEARTS AND MINDS. While there is still a fair amount of grain (especially in archival footage), that’s to be expected from a documentary shot in the 1970s and so the transfer itself can’t be faulted.
Audio: English Mono. “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the restored magnetic DME tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using iZotope RX 3.”
The audio transfer is also quite nice and features clear dialogue (particularly in the new interviews) and a clean soundtrack
Audio commentary featuring Davis: Davis offers a thorough track in which he discusses the purpose of the documentary, his approach, various locations and occurrences and more.
Outtakes: Housed here is wealth of additional/extended interviews with French journalist and historian Philippe Deveillers (10:53), presidential adviser George Ball (19:30), political activist Tony Russo (34:21), broadcast journalist David Brinkley (23:49), General William Westmoreland (26:14), presidential adviser Walt Rostow (24:22), as well as footage from a Quang Nam Funeral (5:23) and the Cong Hoa Hospital (2:52).
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is a 44-page booklet featuring essays by Davis, film critic Judith Crist and historians Robert K. Brigham, George C. Herring and Ngo Vinh Long.