David Puttnam, Roland Joffé, Chris Menges..... what a wonderful team whose individual creativity and collective synergy brought us two out-of-the-world pictures: "The Mission" & "The Killing Fields". Nothing to say about the former. Regarding the latter, the rich combination of such themes as ravages of war, power of friendship and unrequited loyalty makes it one of the powerful films in its genre and greatest films ever to have come out of the British cinema.
"The Killing Fields" takes us back to 1975s Phnom Penh, Cambodian capital, during which the communist guerrilla group Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot seized the city, formed a new government and forced the dwellers to move to the countryside to work in collective farms and labor camps with the goal of restarting of civilization in "Year Zero". During the next 4 years of their rule, these "policies" caused the death of ~ 3 million people (one third of the population) either from execution, torture, starvation, overwork, and disease. Under this apocalyptic environment, "The Killing Fields" tells the true ordeal and survival story of Cambodian photojournalist, Dith Pran, who endured the atrocities of Khmer Rouge regime: captured, tortured, punished for befriending American journalists and forced to work in labor camps in barbaric conditions.
To me, the most impressive thing about "The Killing Fields" is the ravishing cinematography by Academy Award winner Chris Menges. From start to end, The photography is nothing but gorgeous. All shots are meticulously planned, properly balanced and perfectly contrasted, harmonizing the beauty of countryside with ravages of war. The colors are well saturated and look wonderful. Subtle details are well presented, sharp and clearly visible with an emphasis on naturalism.
The outstanding cinematography and the gritty realism of the story was further enhanced by the taut direction of Roland Joffé, whose documentary-like precision contributes to the film's overall power. His battle footage and portrayal of atrocities are mostly documentary nature, but not presented with "cheap" bloodfest where unnecessary amount of blood and gore paint the screen. Let's not forget to mention the outstandingly realistic performance of first-time actor Haing S. Ngor, who deserves to win Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Watching John Malkovich, playing the hot-tempered American war photographer Al Rockoff, is particularly enjoyable.
To sum up, "The Killing Fields" is not just an essential film from historical standpoint of Cambodian Holocaust of 1975-1979, but it is also powerful in its visual and emotional moments in an otherwise hopeless and ruthless situation. (4.4/5.0)