Before that culinary delight, I watched another nominee from 1984's Best Picture line-up...
The Killing Fields
(based on the New York Times Magazine article 'The Death and Life of Dith Pran' by Sydney Schanberg)
Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich, Julian Sands, Craig T. Nelson
3 wins, including Best Supporting Actor
The Killing Fields relates the true story of New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg as he covers the effects of the Vietnam War on neighbouring Cambodia. By his side is Dith Pran, his interpreter, guide, co-reporter and friend all rolled into one. As the situation in the war-torn country progressively deteriorates and Pran's life becomes more and more endangered, Schanberg and his other journo buddies desperately attempt to keep him safe in the midst of their evacuation.
As you can probably tell by that brief description, this is one hell of a serious film, made all the more sombre when considering its basis on reality. It takes a short while to become engaged with the story but once you're hooked, it's like a roller-coaster ride ... that is, if the roller-coaster was continually screaming further and further downwards. Every time you think there's rising track ahead, it seems to just sink deeper into the ground. Not that the film is completely depressing. I mean, it is, but not completely. There's plenty of hope and friendship and moments of courage. But the tension as Pran's dire circumstances become direr consistently deliver genuine "What's going to happen now?" moments. All the way to the end.
The Oscar-winning cinematography is simultaneously gorgeous and gritty. Mike Oldfield's score is a strange blend of electronica and choral music, but it somehow works. And the decision not to include subtitles for any of the foreign language dialogue cleverly adds to the tension. Plus, when you consider that Haing S. Ngor, who portrayed Pran, essentially suffered through the same experience in his own life, it makes for a truly harrowing film. His moving performance earned him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Not bad for a guy who had never acted before.
A pre-Law and Order Sam Waterston provides humanity to Schanberg, the journalist with integrity. John Malkovich is at his outbursting best as Schanberg's photographer. The token Aussie reporter on the scene is played by the King of Australian television, Graham Kennedy. It was especially gratifying to hear him use some Strine. The word "bung" is not a word I've heard since leaving Down Under, and I didn't realise how much I missed it.