Picks and Pans Review: Heaven and Earth

updated 01/10/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/10/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

Tommy Lee Jones, Hiep Thi Le

The title of this pretentious and chaotic Oliver Stone film comes from its protagonist, Le, a Vietnamese woman who endures 30 years of war, marries an American Marine and announces herself to be "between East and West, North and South, Vietnam and America, heaven and earth"—between everything, in fact, except the devil and the deep blue sea.

Based on the memoirs of Le Ly Hayslip, who now lives in San Diego with her second American husband, the movie is full of dialogue and narration that suggest Stone thinks he is making a definitive statement on Vietnam when in fact he is telling the story of one woman's tortured life, and not doing that much justice.

Hayslip grew up near Da Nang, enduring a rape by Vietcong guerrillas, torture and imprisonment by South Vietnamese authorities and all the peripheral terrors of occupation, first by French troops, then by Americans.

The strongest sequences come early, when Stone still has his characters sorted out. After that he clutters things up with murky flashbacks and lots of Buddhist priests whom Stone refers to as "wizards."

When Jones marries Le and takes her and her three children home to San Diego, he is unconvincingly shocked by how inhospitable his family acts toward her. Stone heavy-handedly casts such scenes to indict all of the American involvement in Vietnam, as if a vaguely racist clerk in a California supermarket incriminates a whole country. Hayslip's story is powerfully moving. It is just a part of history, however, not history in microcosm. (R)

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