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A Bright Shining Lie (1998)

Bill Paxton , Amy Madigan , Terry George  |  R |  DVD
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Bill Paxton, Amy Madigan, Eric Bogosian, Donal Logue, Vivian Wu
  • Directors: Terry George
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: HBO Studios
  • DVD Release Date: December 22, 1998
  • Run Time: 119 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 6305225788
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,397 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "A Bright Shining Lie" on IMDb

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

Based on Neil Sheehan's controversial book about the making of the Vietnam war, this HBO production is told from the perspective of Lt. Colonel John Paul Vann (Bill Paxton), one of the original military advisers sent in 1962 to prop up the fledgling South Vietnamese army against the Viet Cong. Battle-ready and enthusiastic upon his arrival, Vann quickly learns that political and social pressures are causing the South Vietnamese to doctor evidence of their victories and local military brass to take undeserved credit for overhyped battles. As the propaganda draws America ever deeper into a war most people clearly don't understand, Vann takes issue with the corruption and finds his career in tatters--only the beginning of a long journey that piles tragedies upon ironies. Written and directed by Terry George (Some Mother's Son), A Bright Shining Lie has a somewhat rushed and brittle quality to it, made all the more dry by passages from Sheehan's book read, documentary-style, by Donal Logue. But George also makes a case for Vann's more blatant personal contradictions--such as the casualness of his womanizing when he so clearly loves his wife (Amy Madigan)--that only grow as years pass and political myths supporting the war fold over onto themselves. (Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, more or less played in this film by Eric Bogosian, has taken issue with this depiction of Vann's character.) Sustaining the whole project is Paxton's focused, thoughtful performance, and an enduring public hunger to know just what it was that happened in Vietnam. On both counts, the film is well worth seeing. The DVD includes cast bios, English and Spanish audio tracks, and English, Spanish, and French subtitles. --Tom Keogh

Product Description

This stirring adaptation of Neal Travis' award-winning book stars Bill Paxton as Lt. Col. John Paul Vann, a military advisor sent to Saigon in 1962 to help South Vietnam's battle against the Communist North. After revealing his critical findings to a reporter, Vann is dismissed from his job, but returns years later as a civilian advisor during the Johnson administration. With Vivian Wu, Donal Logue and Amy Madigan. 118 min. Standard; Soundtracks: English Dolby Digital Surround, Spanish Dolby Digital Surround; Subtitles: English, Spanish; biographies.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent little known Nam movie... May 18, 2005
I read all the reviews that were submitted...interesting. Valid points include that this film attempts to follow the tumultous life of a man of uncomprimising nature as well as an uncanny military genius w/ mixed success. Less credible are the Vann's "grandson" comments on his distain for interracial sexual relations(?), and "there's not enough action". Many Vietnam movies tend to focus on the extremes of human emotion and visceral narration (i.e grunts, fighter jocks, spec. ops. etc). If you are seeking the emotional impact and bullet time of Platoon or Apocalypse Now you won't find it here.

This movie focuses on the broader issues of the conflict, South Vietnamese corruption, U.S military leaders' ineptitude in combating guerilla warfare, and the evolution of the press affecting American sentiment toward to the long course of war. Corrupt South Vietnamese cadre, themselves products of colonialism, whose elitism pushed to average Vietnamese into the waiting arms of the communists. Also the single-mindness of the US military is clearly evident, even when their continual losses revealed their flawed strategy. General Westmoreland is portrayed as a over-conficent and narrow-minded man unaccepting of his subordinates advice. If this seems inaccurate, just watch his opinated comments in the Hearts and Minds documentary. Its seems poor Vann is the only man w/ the right ideas in a world full of officers still fighting WWII. His career is shattered because he wouldn't back down in a military system where you don't challenge your commanders. In the end, Vann finally gets his props and realizes his potential, but it was too late...American public had enough of Vietnam.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format:VHS Tape
1. The story takes place during the Vietnam Conflict in Southeast Asia when the world was experiencing trying yet exciting times. A country of peasant people whose leadership along with U.S. policy was corrupt. Policy appeared to be formulated to fool or misguide the people of which the survivors would inevitably have to try and build a future society. 2. The movie is trying to show us the positive and the negative side of human nature and the constant struggle between the two cultures with the Vietnamese people trying to survive. John Paul Vann helps us understand that a leader is human and may have character flaws. His decisions were subject to the situation and political policy in the same manner as the rest of us. The story also accurately depicts the conflict and the effects of divisiveness within our society. I think the author convincingly developed the story well by gradually challenging the legitimacy and goals of U.S. policy from the time of the advisor policy through the height of the conflict. 3. John Paul Vann responds to situations with the unique ability to assess the total scope of the situation he was in and formulates a plan. John Paul Vann understood he was not the overall leader, but constantly challenged leadership in one way or another. The U.S. Press Corps constantly bonded with John Paul Vann and would counsel him so he would not be put into a worse position than he already was with U.S. military leadership. 4. The main pressure on John Paul Vann and many like him that fought was that they believed in what they were doing. The problem for John Paul Vann was he, as an outcast, knew the professional arrogance and corruption between U.S. and South Vietnamese leadership was real. John Paul Vann, initially, was a U.S. Read more ›
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Less than satisfactiory film version of the book May 2, 2002
This is a well-intentioned biopic of John Paul Vann [Bill Paxton], a fascinating man who was intimately involved in the Vietnam War, both as a soldier and a civilian. It is a less than satisfying film because it attempts to cover much of our involvement in Vietnam [1962-1972] while simultaneously conveying a lot about Vann's personal life. For example, Vann was a womanizer. We see him with his wife and children in America. During his first tour of Vietnam, he takes up with a Vietnamese school teacher. His wife eventually divorces him. Later, he meets and marries another Vietnamese girl. These events by themselves could make for a complicated movie. "A Bright Shining Lie" also shows many of the highlights of the war, which itself is an even more complicated drama. The story is better suited to a miniseries. For more than a `Cliff's Notes' view, read the excellent book by Neil Sheehan upon which it is based.
Paxton is fine as Vann, but there are no pivotal scenes that define the character for us. We never feel we know him that well. Many other characters, most notable the women, appear for a while, then just disappear.
The action sequences are exceptionally well done, especially for a made for TV movie.
The film presents a point of view [someone who was a leader and an insider in the war] that's different from those in other Vietnam War movies, but it lacks the emotional impact of the best of them, such as "Apocalypse Now", "Platoon" and "Coming Home".
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Eye-opener April 6, 2005
I first watched this movie five years ago on HBO, and to be honest, this film inspired me to read the book, though it would take me four long years to find it.

ABSL focuses on the life of one of the most signficant, yet unrecognized in the mainstream, figures of the Vietnam War: Lt. Col. John Paul Vann, USA.

Just like the novel, the movie starts off at the funeral, then proceeds to Vann's arrival in Vietnam in March 1962. He begins to devote time advising his Vietnamese counterpart, Col. Nguyen Van Cao, played by Singaporean actor Lim Kay Tong. Vann feels something is not right when the South Vietnamese fake the VC body counts and deduce that they have no stomach for fighting the Communists-they only want to protect the Diem regime. The Battle of Ap Bac would later make the Americans and South Vietnamese begin paying for such errors in blood, as it's aftermath jacks up the war to a new level...

The film mostly focuses on the action in Vietnam. Bill Paxton portrayed the role of Vann quite well, as a father, husband, and officer. He was able to add color to his role as his Vann character gets screwed over by the military leadership over the conduct of the war, and his troubles at home. His sexual hijinks with Lee the schoolteacher and Annie the naive schoolgirl are also in the movie.

If General Westmoreland was really that arrogant in Vietnam, Kurtwood Smith did a fine job playing him.

Lim Kay Tong's Singaporean accent is evident in his role as Colonel Cao, unless the Vietnamese really speak that way.

It's obvious that there were errors in the movie that I would later discover in the novel-names changed and all of that. Vann was not there when the first Buddhist monk committed suicide by fire, for example.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This movie was the best Vietnam war movie I've seen since "We Were Soldiers".
Published 1 month ago by Ivan Pierce
5.0 out of 5 stars Good movie if you want to understand the Vietnam war.
The book is an astoundingly detailed history of American involvement in Vietnam after the end of the French defeat at Dien Ben Phu. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jack Evans
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Movie
Told the true story about a man who could have changed history in Vietnam. The movie included his strengths in warfare as well as his weaknesses in his personal life.
Published 5 months ago by Donald Anger
4.0 out of 5 stars The story really requires more than 2 hours to tell properly
I saw this movie after reading the book. The movie is a noble effort to capture the essence of the book, and does as well as is humanly possible, but the story of Vann's life and... Read more
Published 6 months ago by James Konopliski
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical Document.
5 stars.This movie is a historical document that relates a different point of view about how confront the vietnam war.
Published 6 months ago by Roberto Gaviria
4.0 out of 5 stars Why did we lose the War in Vietnam?
Why did we lose the War in Vietnam?

A few films seem to bring us closer to an answer. Some are only allegories. Read more
Published 15 months ago by V. R. Padgett
1.0 out of 5 stars Forget the movie. Read the book.
The book is a memorable account, by biography, of one enlighten individuals account of that horrid war.
The movie however is terrible in every way. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Blue6
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book and movie!
Bill Paxton brings this real-life hero to life. As he strove to tell bureaucrats the real truth of Vietnam, Lt. Colonel John Paul Vann was also an ordinary man with feet of clay. Read more
Published on May 25, 2012 by A Forest Fan
5.0 out of 5 stars the movie stayed close to the book and showed what an amazing soldier...
the movie stayed close to the book and described what an amazing soldier he was, he will never be forgotten
Published on December 26, 2011 by jbo
5.0 out of 5 stars John Paul Vann and the Vietnam War
I just ordered the book about Vann last night, and thought I would give the review on the movie, which I ordered from Amazon two months ago and have watched 3 times since then,... Read more
Published on October 20, 2010 by Tyler
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