Hearts and Minds

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Hearts and Minds Movie Poster Image
Provocative Vietnam War docu with violence, racial slurs.
  • R
  • 2002
  • 112 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Hearts and Minds reflects the deep divisions in opinion about the Vietnam War, including the reactions and emotions of those who fought in it and those most affected by it. The result is a fairly clear anti-war message.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While some viewers will believe the American prisoners of war who have returned home to be positive role models, others will believe those soldiers who chose to follow their conscience and desert a military whom they believe were fighting an unjust war are the positive role models, to say nothing of government officials on both sides of the debate, and Vietnamese men, women, and children who were caught in the crossfire of decades of conflict.


The Vietnam War is graphically portrayed through news footage of Vietnamese soldiers being killed, villages being burned, and bombs falling from planes. Children are shown running down a road naked and screaming with parts of their skin peeling after a napalm attack. A Vietnamese prisoner is shown being kicked repeatedly in the chest and pistol whipped in the shoulder. In the rubble of a bombed-out house, a Vietnamese man cries and wails in agony, offering the shirt of his recently killed daughter to the American media to present to President Nixon. American soldiers home from the war tell frank anecdotes of their experiences in the war.


Two American servicemen are shown in neighboring beds, cavorting with Vietnamese prostitutes. The servicemen remove the bras of the prostitutes, exposing their breasts.


Frequent language includes "f--k," "ass," "motherf---er," "s--t." American soldiers frequently use racial slurs: "gook," "slope," and "dink."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Men and women are frequently shown smoking cigarettes. During a large White House reception for recently freed American prisoners of war, President Nixon jokes that to toast every returning prisoner of war would require everyone to drink through the night and into the next morning, to which someone yells "What's wrong with that?"

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Hearts and Minds is an intense 1974 Academy-Award winning documentary about the Vietnam War. Scenes from actual news footage is shown -- villages burned, dead bodies, and bloody injured soldiers -- as well as testimonials from American soldiers, some of whom are now paralyzed. American attitudes towards war in general are shown through brief clips of war movies. While many in the film freely use Vietnamese racial slurs, this documentary makes a concerted effort to understand the Vietnamese people and how they saw the war that was being fought.

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What's the story?

HEARTS AND MINDS is a 1974 documentary about the Vietnam War. Vietnam's history as a French colony is discussed, as well as America's gradual and incremental involvement in the conflict from the 1950s into the 1970s. The opinions of American policy makers, veterans, anti-war activists, and average citizens in the United States and Vietnam combine with news footage to show a well-rounded, if left-skewing picture of the turmoil of wartime. What emerges from this documentary is a debate on the costs of the Vietnam War -- in lives, in pride, in the sheer divisiveness it engendered between Americans -- and an attempt to understand how the Vietnamese themselves understood the war.

Is it any good?

Hearts and Minds is a frank discussion about the price paid by so many on all sides for this divisive military conflict. Whether you believe the Vietnam War was a battle the Vietnamese waged against colonialism, or a battle Americans (and before them, the French) waged against the spread of international communism -- or if you don't know what you think -- it is impossible to finish watching Hearts and Minds without having a strong opinion on the war, and this documentary's bold efforts to understand the war. Nearly 40 years after its controversial release, many of the issues raised -- about war, American foreign policy, patriotism, and America's role in the world as a super power -- remain in the forefront of a still-divided nation. 

What has changed since that time -- publicly, anyway -- are some of the shocking expressions of racism in the documentary; for instance, a recently returned American prisoner of war freely uses the word "gooks" when discussing his experiences as a soldier with a women's club in his hometown. The racial slurs, coupled with the intense scenes of war, will make this a difficult experience for younger and more sensitive viewers. It's a documentary that shows war in all its complexities and outright ugliness (and a welcome contrast to the typical Hollywood glamorization of battle).

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the Vietnam War is presented in this documentary? Do you think it includes all sides? What did you learn about Vietnam and the Vietnam War that you did not know before watching this documentary?

  • How does this documentary compare to Hollywood movies about Vietnam?

  • How have things changed since the Vietnam War? What is the U.S.'s relationship with Vietnam now? How have attitudes toward different cultures and races shifted over time?

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