Thursday, April 7, 2011


Directed by Henry Corra

In the most haunting documentary I've seen in a while, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MCKINLEY NOLAN follows McKinley Nolan's family as they search for answers about his disappearance during the Vietnam War.  There's mystery surrounding his disappearance, from possible sightings of him in 2005 to classified government documents. 

His family lives in a little town just outside of Houston.  Nothing fancy; very simple life.  His brother talks about how they all grew up working in the cotton fields to make a living, and after 20 years of that, you get sick of it.  So, McKinley joined the army.  He goes to Vietnam, leaving his wife and kids at home, and realizes he was fighting a war that he didn't really believe in.  That's when the letters home 1967.  Ever since then, his family has wanted to know something or anything about what happened to him.

Then, in 2005, Lt. Dan Smith, who was revisiting the battlefields of his Vietnam days, ran into an African American man who said he was from Texas.  After some research, Smith thinks this could be McKinley Nolan.  He visits the family, tells him his story, which becomes the catalyst for the McKinley's brother, Michael, to travel to Vietnam and find answers.  As they travel, they're met with some dead ends and some glimpses of hope.  Michael meets McKinley's other son.  Together they begin to unravel some clues as to the whereabouts of McKinley and his second wife. 

The story goes that McKinley was a deserter and joined the Viet Cong, or was an American operative, or he killed two guards and then joined the other side.  Many different stories surrounding his life.  During which he met his Vietnam wife, had a son, and decided to stay, that part is true.  However, when Vietnam's infrastructure began to crumble, McKinley and his wife escaped to Cambodia.  Soon after, the Khmer Rouge began their mass genocide against its own people.  At this point, many of us would have given up hope and assumed him dead, but not Michael.  Michael's love and determination keeps him going until he finds solid proof of what happened. 

Throughout their investigation, the filmmakers were able to get unprecedented interviews with old members of the Viet Cong and Khmer Rouge.  (Most of the Khmer Rouge members, who are still alive, are on trial for crimes against humanity).  Even though these seem like breaks in their case, many of the men wouldn't divulge too much information because it puts their own livelihood at risk.  No real answers, just more questions.

In the end, the movie becomes less about McKinley, and more about Michael's spirit, love and determination.  It seems that after McKinley disappeared and the family wasn't getting much help from the government, they gave up trying.  Then when Smith showed up, all those feelings got swirled back to the surface.  A new determination was sparked, and answers were needed.  The documentary will leave you talking and discussing what really happened, what would you do, and how far you would go for answers. 

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