Rules of Engagement

Tom Bissell in the New York Times:

In the middle of Peter Davis’s Vietnam war documentary, “Hearts and Minds,” a large, pale, scarily eyebrowless face suddenly takes over the screen. It’s the face of Col. George S. Patton III, son of the famous general, as he describes his attendance at a memorial service in Vietnam for some fallen American soldiers. When he gazed upon the faces of the memorial’s attendees, Patton says: “I was just proud. My feeling for America just soared.. . .They looked determined and reverent at the same time. But still” – and here Colonel Patton’s abrupt, savage smile reveals a mouth packed with draft-horse-size choppers – “they’re a bloody good bunch of killers.”

It is a moment you have to see to fully appreciate, which is to say it is a moment you have to see to believe. And it is the sort of completely defenseless moment you often see only in documentary films. No Hollywood dramatization could do justice to Patton’s cheerful viciousness, and a print journalist would doubtless hoard Patton’s words for some skeweringly perfect ending. But Davis allows Colonel Patton and reverent killers to float through his film like stray pieces of the dreadful shipwreck that was American aspiration in Vietnam.

More here.