Based on a true story, a village Vietnamese girl named Le Ly (Hiep Thi Le) sees her life and village change due to the effects of the Vietnam War. This first act is really sad and really heavy. We go from seeing a beautiful village and land get slowly destroyed due to the war; to having some members of our main characters' family dying; to having our main character being tortured and raped by both the Americans and the Vietcong; to being seduced from a married man that Le Ly works for, resulting to dishonoring her family. I can't tell you how sad and moved I was from the first hour and 6 minutes. It really disturbed me and made me cry, as well being hard to watch. The actress who plays our main character is so great for her role by bringing the sense of realism and innocence that I can't help, but cry and feel this character's pain. As for the score, it's not memorable, but it is indeed moving. The cinematography, art direction, and editing is excellent and it really does capture the beauty of the village; the destruction and chaos of war; and I like the use of Black & White for the flashbacks and dream sequences.
The narrative structure is good too. The narration that our main character gives is moving and does bring the dramatic tone for the film. However, if I did have any kind of criticism for the first act, I felt like the pacing was a little too quick. I know the film is trying to juggle and put every important aspect to this person's life together within the 2 hours and 10 minutes of the film, but it feels a bit rushed. On top of it, I feel like we don't spend enough time with her family for them to become close and lovable. For example, the two brothers that go out to war and die, we're only introduced to them in one scene before they go out to war and that's it. It's sad, but we barley spend any time with them to feel bad about them. On top of it, we find out through the narration that she was really close with one of the two brothers. Think about how effecting it would be if we actually got to see their relationship. As for her relationship with her Father and Mother, I'm not saying it's not there, it is, but it feels very brief and quick during the scenes when we see them together, mostly with the scenes with her and the Mother. The only relationship I can remember well from the first act of the film is the relationship with her Sister that tries to help her, while at the same time treats her like crap. Not a bad start at all, just feels a little too rushed, probably because audiences are waiting to see the big named star in the second act.
In this Act, Le Ly meets an American soldier named Steve (Tommy Lee Jones) and the two begin to form a close relationship, to forming their own family in America. However, Steve becomes brutal and abusive towards Le Ly as the horrors from the war is coming back to haunt him. So how's Tommy Lee Jones in this role, he's great actually. How he transforms from a kind hearted dream soldier, to a crazed abusive husband with a bad past is great; the relationship and chemistry between him and Le Ly is moving and interesting; and the scene where he breaks down and tells Le Ly about his experience in the war is really sad and moving. I also enjoy watching Le Ly adjust to American life as we see her slowly become Americanized. As for the score, cinematography, art direction and other filming techniques, it's still just as great as it was in the first act of the film. The only big criticism I have is the pacing. The relationship between Le Ly and Steve is there, but at times it feels just as rushed as most of the scenes in the first act. The acting at times feels rushed; some of the scenes feel rushed; it just feels like the film is trying to cram as much it can within its 2 hour and 10 minute limit.
While the film does feel rushed, I still think it's a good film. The acting is good (Especially from our two leads); the narrative is easy to follow; the look and feel of the film is powerful; and it does show the brutality and sadness of war. If the pacing of the film didn't feel rushed, perhaps I would have given it my highest rating. With that huge flaw aside, I'm really glad I saw this film, and I was indeed moved by it especially during the scenes that did take its time.