review for Heaven & Earth on AllMovie

Heaven & Earth (1993)
by Karl Williams review

The third and final film in Oliver Stone's much-lauded Vietnam trilogy is a thoughtful true-life story that unfortunately suffers from the narrative overload that is both the director's greatest strength and weakness. Because he's a lightning rod for controversy with some of his wild, highly entertaining, half-baked conspiracy theorizing, Stone has not yet been fully appreciated for the gifted artist he is. He's a director that enjoys relentlessly barraging an audience with images and ideas, not much caring what sticks and what simply passes away, wallowing in the gleeful, artistic attention deficit disorder that is his signature style. That's fine for a fever dream of a film, such as JFK (1991), Natural Born Killers (1994), or Any Given Sunday (1999). This film's tragic aura and tone of mournful nostalgia cries out for a reverent, patient touch, however, something Stone managed with some sequences in Platoon (1986) but here seems loathe to muster. Perhaps it's also that, unlike with Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July (1989), his previous Vietnam films, the conclusion of his thematic trilogy is not really autobiographical. It's the story of somebody else's life, somebody else's culture, and Stone's work just doesn't seem as engaged, as awash in the proceedings, as it is when the director is fully tuned in. It doesn't quite work, but Stone's misses are at least as interesting as many other directors' hits; the bottom line is that Heaven and Earth is a laudable effort to understand Vietnam from the other side's perspective.