The Beautiful Country

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
The Beautiful Country Movie Poster Image
Provocative drama -- mature teens and adults only.
  • R
  • 2005
  • 136 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Exploitative traffickers in immigrants, a murderer eludes punishment.

Violence

A murder, beatings, harsh conditions for refugees and illegal immigrants.

Sex

Prostitute's actions are not visible, but explicitly referenced.

Language

Moderate.

Consumerism

Discussions of U.S. products (Clint Eastwood, NBA, Folgers coffee, etc.)

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink, smoke, do drugs.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this movie tells a harrowing story of a young Ameriasian's journey from Saigon to Texas. Along the way, he sees his mother sexually harassed by her employer, is involved in an accidental death, is battered, starving, afraid, and loses his young half-brother to illness aboard a ship. His closest friend during the journey is a prostitute, who does her work off screen, but it's obvious what she does. The trip also involves some violence, as the overseer on the ship abuses his "cargo," and the captain shoots a man.

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What's the story?

Born to a Vietnamese mother, Mai (Bui Anh Tan), and an American GI, Binh (Damien Nguyen) is caught between times and places. He literally stands out (too tall) among his Vietnamese fellows, decried for having "the face of the enemy." An accident forces Binh to leave his mother, who sends him with her much younger son, Tam (Tran Dang Quoc Thinh), to find Binh's father, Steve (Nick Nolte) in Texas. The boys' long travels are full of hardship. When he finally finds his father, Binh faces more complications, as Steve is blind and resigned to feeling punished for his past.

Is it any good?

Provocative and lyrical, THE BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY tells the difficult story of a young man's search for his identity, through his long-lost parents. The film shows Binh's experience in lyrical, subtle, often extraordinary imagery (recalling the work of the film's producer, Terrence Malick). In one early scene, as Binh scrubs the foyer floor of his mother's employer, Stuart Dryburgh's camera shoots at a sharp angle, looking across the room from his scrub brush up to his mother, standing to dust a table. The son of her employer walks between them, cutting across the space as he approaches Mai, initially appearing only as feet -- Binh's head-down view, then fully in frame by the time the son casually and cruelly grabs at Mai's bottom.

Binh's friendship with a prostitute, Ling (Bai Ling), presents some predictable conflicts. He yearns for her, wants to save her, and also feels shame for her. His meeting with his father is full of conflict, as well. Binh may or may not forgive his father, but the more daunting effect is visible in their long pauses and Steve's brief, pained fingering of his son's "ugly" face. They're both enduring the continuing costs of war -- the Vietnam war in particular. Literally blind, Steve embodies U.S. lapses and longings, political and moral missteps, and the guilt that drives and undermines all efforts to do right.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the difficulties Binh faces while tracking down his father, including poverty, brutal and exploitative traffickers in human bodies and labor, and regulations (he enters the States believing he is illegal, not knowing that his father's citizenship allows him entrance). How does Binh's journey teach him about himself, his mother's struggles, and his father's experiences as a wounded soldier? How does his brother's death drive him to overcome his rage and fear? What are his feelings for Ling, the prostitute, and why do they part?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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