review for The Beautiful Country on AllMovie

The Beautiful Country (2004)
by Richie Unterberger review

Cinematically The Beautiful Country is a fairly conventional melodrama, but it's a very powerful and well-acted one, with an unusual story broaching sociopolitical topics too seldom explored in mainstream movies of the early 21st century. Although Nick Nolte (playing the protagonist's long-lost American father) received top billing for his small part, the film is really carried by Damien Nguyen in his role as the half-Vietnamese, half-American young man who undertakes an epic odyssey across three countries and an ocean. Several interesting issues are touched upon, either in passing or in depth. Those include the scorn heaped upon war children of mixed ancestry in Vietnam; the oppression of lower classes that remained among Vietnamese citizenry even after the Vietnam's War end; the stateless displacement in Malaysian refugee camps; the exploitation of illegal refugees by Western mercenaries; the incredible hardships those refugees endure to escape to America; the fall of decent women into prostitution in order to survive; and the destruction wrought by the Vietnam War on the lives of American soldiers such as Nolte. It's a lot to hold together, particularly over a narrative that moves from rural Vietnam to Saigon, Malaysia, an ocean crossing, New York, and Texas. Holding it together is the stoic resiliency of Nguyen, determined to maintain his dignity even though all cultures seem to discriminate against and reject him, developing a toughness without compromising his fundamental sense of justice and decency.