Roland Joffé's unflinching drama recounts the true story of New York Times journalist Sidney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) and Cambodian journalist and translator Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor), who found themselves trapped in the nightmare of the Khmer Rouge revolution in Cambodia. While stationed in Phnom Penh in the early 1970s, Schanberg and Pran become close friends and confidants, negotiating and writing many groundbreaking stories. When the ruling Lon Nol government is overthrown by the Khmer Rouge, the country is turned upside down--killing is common in the streets, and children become gun-toting informants. Schanberg is forced to flee the country, with his fellow American photographer Al Rockoff (John Malkovich) and British journalist Jon Swain (Julian Sands). Despite their exhaustive efforts to free Pran, they have no choice but to leave him behind. Pran is forced to endure excruciating agony at the Pol Pot death camps, where any shred of individuality or dissent is beaten out of the prisoners. After years of brutal torture, Pran manages to escape and begins a long odyssey to Thailand and the border refugee camps. As Pran struggles to stay alive, Schanberg endures life in New York wracked with guilt over the loss of his good friend, desperately attempting to locate him. This haunting drama is epic in its portrayal of a war-torn country devastated by mass genocide. Images of both great horror and beauty resonate with awesome power and honesty. Joffé's first film features superb performances from a first-rate ensemble of actors, including Waterston, Sands, Malkovich, and Ngor in an Oscar-winning role.
1984 - Academy Awards - Best Film Editing - Winner
1984 - Academy Awards - Best Supporting Actor - Winner
1984 - Academy Awards - Best Cinematography - Winner
Main Cast & Crew:
Roland Joffe - Director
Haing S. Ngor
Craig T. Nelson
Katherine Krapum Chey
- Format: DVD
- Run Time: 141
- Color Format: Color
- UPC: 888574446215
- Genre: Drama
- Rating: R (MPAA)
- Release Date: May 2000
THE KILLING FIELDS is the true account of a New York Times reporter and his Cambodian guide who find themselves caught up in the nightmarish Khmer Rouge revolution.
Theaterical release: November 2, 1984. Filmed on location in Thailand. THE KILLING FIELDS is the feature-film debut for director Roland Joffé and is based on the true story of New York Times journalist Sidney Schanberg and his friendship with Cambodian translator Dith Pran. Schanberg covered Cambodia for the New York Times between 1972 and 1975, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for his reports from Phnom Penh. He published his memoirs, "The Death and Life of Dith Pran: A Story of Cambodia," in the Times Magazine on January 20, 1980, while working as the paper's metropolitan editor. When this film, adapted from those memoirs, was released in 1984, Schanberg was still with the Times as a columnist. Dr. Haing S. Ngor made his screen debut as Dith Pran in THE KILLING FIELDS. Ngor's real-life experiences paralleled that of his onscreen character. Tortured by the Khmer Rouge for being a member of the educated, intellectual class, the Cambodian physician was forced to hide his education and work as a taxi driver for four years before he managed to escape to Thailand. While working in California as a gynecologist, he was recruited to audition for a role in the film after casting agent Pat Golden saw his face in a friend's wedding photos. As a result of his involvement with the film, Ngor was reunited with a long-lost niece when she read about the film at her home in France. The niece was apparently his last living relative; the remainder of his family succumbed to starvation in Cambodia. Ngor was the first actor to win an Academy Award for his film debut. He was murdered in 1996 in the Chinatown district of Los Angeles, possibly by Khmer Rouge operatives. Actor Spalding Gray, who appeares as the United States consul in THE KILLING FIELDS, later wrote a monologue based on the history of Cambodia and his personal experiences working on the film. He first performed the monologue, SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA, on the New York stage. It was adapted for the screen by director Jonathan Demme in 1987. The film is one of the earliest screen appearances for John Malkovich, a stage actor with Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater Company. Malkovich received an Academy Award nomination for PLACES IN THE HEART,which was released the same year as THE KILLING FIELDS. He was named Best Supporting Actor of 1984 by the National Society of Film Critics for his work on both films. Playwright, Athol Fugard (MASTER HAROLD AND THE BOYS), appears in the film as Dr. Sundesval. Joffé received the British Film Critics' 1985 Best Director Award. The film was named on Japan's Kinema Jumpo Best Ten List of 1985 and the National Board of Review's Ten Best English-Language Films of 1984. David Puttnam was named Best Foreign Producer of 1984-85 by the Italian David di Donatello Awards. Chris Menges was named Best Cinematographer of 1984 by the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Society of Film Critics, and the Los Angeles Film Critics.
"...Great care and respect....The performances are uniformly fine..." - 11/02/1984 New York Times, p.C10
"...Intelligent....[The] picture is terrifically successful in physically evoking its time and place..." - 10/31/1984 Variety
"...[An] expertly paced dissection of this horrific chapter in Cambodia's life..." - 03/01/2001 Sight and Sound, p.64
"Malkovich often commands our fascination while playing the most unsavory characters....A harrowing tableau." - 09/01/2005 Premiere, p.130
"[T]here is a genuine sense of catharsis in the final reunion." - 03/01/2006 Sight and Sound, p.89