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A Bright Shining Lie (1998)

R | | Drama, War | TV Movie 30 May 1998
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1:09 | Trailer

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True story of Army man John Paul Vann, whose military success provided him the fulfillment he never found in his personal life.

Director:

Terry George

Writers:

Neil Sheehan (book), Terry George (teleplay)
Reviews
Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 3 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Bill Paxton ... John Paul Vann
Bo Eason Bo Eason ... Officer Tally
William L. Mansey William L. Mansey ... Officer Conroy
Karina Logue ... Barmaid
Amy Madigan ... Mary Jane Vann
Robert L. Hull Robert L. Hull ... Bureaucrat Soldier
Donal Logue ... Steven Burnett
'Josh' Somsak Orajan 'Josh' Somsak Orajan ... Vann's ARVN Driver
Harve Presnell ... MACV General
Robert John Burke ... Frank Drummond
Bill Whelan Bill Whelan ... Ron Dray
Kay Tong Lim Kay Tong Lim ... Colonel Cao Huynh Van
Seng Kawee Seng Kawee ... VC Leader (as Kawee 'Seng' Sirikhanerut)
Kajie Khan Kajie Khan ... Madame Nhu (as Kajie Kahn)
Vivian Wu ... Lee
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Storyline

Something in his past keeps career Army man John Paul Vann from advancing past colonel. He views being sent to Vietnam as part of the US military advisory force a stepping stone to promotion. However, he disagrees vocally (and on the record) with the way the war is being run and is forced to leave the military. Returning to Vietnam as a civilian working with the Army, he comes to despise some South Vietnamese officers while he takes charge of some of the U.S. forces and continues his liaisons with Vietnamese women. Written by Ron Kerrigan <mvg@whidbey.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

In war as in life the difference between truth and deception is what a man allows himself to believe.

Genres:

Drama | War

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for war violence and some language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English | Vietnamese

Release Date:

30 May 1998 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Mentiras de guerra See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Dolby

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Amy Madigan and Bill Paxton also appeared together in Streets of Fire (1984). See more »

Quotes

John: It is not true that we are here to solve problems, sir. WE are the problem.
See more »

Connections

Featured in The 56th Annual Golden Globe Awards (1999) See more »

Soundtracks

Cai Luong Folk Song
(Bai Hat Cai Luong)
Performed by Khao Chi Ensemble
Courtesy of Henry Street/Rounder Records
By Arrangement with Ocean Park Music Group
See more »

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User Reviews

 
A Soldier with a Sordid Past Devoted to a Doomed War
14 May 2006 | by tom-darwinSee all my reviews

Neil Sheehan's masterpiece tells the Vietnam War story through a single biography. John Paul Vann was an American who overcame a humble background & made a distinctive, heroic career as a soldier, adding a beautiful wife & 3 kids along the way. Preparing for promotion to high rank, he went to Vietnam in the early 1960s as an adviser, one of the select few to take the fight against Communism right into combat. But Vann was also a man with deep personal issues: haunting, shaming memories of childhood poverty, a weak father & a libertine mother, leading perhaps to his own aggressive infidelities including one with an underaged girl that nearly led to court-martial. And his "fight" in Vietnam was merely a series of bureaucratic exercises in which the Americans were bogged down by South Vietnamese intrigues, both unwilling & unable to do what was necessary to defeat the Communists. Terry George explores this theme with the steady pace, methodical yet engrossing, that was later such a triumph in the remarkably similar "Hotel Rwanda." Paxton has his work cut out as the very complicated Vann, a dedicated soldier who is not only everything an Army officer should be, but also a true warrior whose devotion to victory trumps his loyalty to the establishment & thus even his own career. Yet Sheehan's Vann has a shocking capacity for self-harm, hating the ignominious background that was not his fault, indulging himself in sexual adventures that wounded his family & threatened his career as readily as he embarked on reckless combat missions. It's all Paxton's show & he takes us on a fascinating odyssey of an officer whose slow realization that the Army would rather lose the war by the book than win it by tossing away the book (it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game?) causes him to leave the Army but, after a short, sad foray into business, return to Vietnam as a civilian administrator who steadily accumulates unique, vast military authority. Paxton's Vann wants to understand Vietnam's people & culture--but only enough to help him in his war effort--leading him to turn his back on his tormented family & take a Vietnamese wife (Wu). But for Vann, everything in his life is devoted to victory, a personal goal, an intense obsession, that he will achieve whether America or Vietnam like it or not. Paxton is suitably restrained, uttering no war cries like Stallone or Norris, making no personal journey of self-awareness or redemption as in "Apocalypse Now" or "Uncommon Valor." The professionalism of the art of war is his mantra, the belief that the everlasting principles of the true warrior will realize the high ideals of democracy & capitalism over the despair of communism. George doesn't give Paxton the opportunity to go too deeply into Vann's personal life (the book WAS very long, after all), so Vann comes across as a complex but not quite complete antihero. The other actors are there to help paint the Vann picture rather than those of their own characters. Madigan is very fine as Vann's loyal wife driven to despair as much by Vann's obsession with the abstract concept of victory as his gross infidelities. The superb Kurtwood Smith gives the best film portrayal of Westmoreland ever on screen--decisive, firm, unapproachable, unhearing--though he has only minutes to do it. Kay Tong Lim is as restrained as Paxton in depicting the clever Colonel Cao, Vann's ARVN partner & as self-serving as Vann is idealistic, who goes from being Vann's great hope to his frustration to his nemesis. The action scenes are low-budget & unremarkable, but audiences were long ago falsely conditioned to view Vietnam as a series of either personal or spectacular cowboy-vs-Indian fights. Vann's presentations for Pentagon & White House big-shots, in which he dramatically holds up handfuls of rice to underscore the importance of winning over Vietnam's farmers, are far more poignant. If the Vann of Sheehan, George & Paxton has a valediction, it's that the war was lost in Washington, not in the field--a view that's hardly original but is still very hard to wrap one's mind around. Many viewers will find "A Bright, Shining Lie" quite unsatisfying entertainment, but that's the problem with dramatizing nonfiction, the risk of presenting a story that's trying to teach. But, if it tries to teach, it doesn't try to preach, and at least the sun doesn't set in the East.


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