Written and directed by Oliver Stone
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Kevin Dillon, Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker, and Keith David
Chris Taylor (Sheen) volunteered for the military after dropping out of college. Now in the midst of Vietnam he’s learning the harsh realities of war. When he runs afoul of Sergeant Barnes (Berenger), Chris realizes that the rules of war don’t always apply. In stark contrast to the brutality of Barnes, Sergeant Elias (Dafoe) s trying to maintain order in the midst of the chaos. Now Chris is in the midst of these two contrasting leaders as they try to survive in the jungles of Vietnam.
Oliver Stone (JFK) wrote and directed this film to serve as the beginning of a trilogy he based on his experiences with the Vietnam War. He followed up Platoon with Born on the Fourth of July and Heaven & Earth. This film was the most successful of the three, earning eight Oscar nominations and winning four. This included wins for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Sound. His cast included a wide range of great actors, creating a memorable ensemble of characters throughout the film. Some of those stars include Charlie Sheen (Wall Street), Tom Berenger (Inception), Willem Dafoe (The Aviator), and Kevin Dillon (The Doors). The film also features Johnny Depp (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), and Keith David (Coraline).
The screenplay for this film is a great one. Stone had the unenviable task of trying to find success with a film about Vietnam. The giants of the Vietnam War films were Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter. His efforts made this film the third of the great Vietnam War movies. This film took a new approach and developed a cast of characters that are in varying stages of transformation based on their experiences in the war. Stone’s dialogue and storytelling work together nicely in this film. His decision to use Chris (Sheen) as the vehicle for the film was also great, allowing the events to be seen from relatively innocent eyes. The loss of innocence in Chris is also nicely captured with perfect moments throughout the film.
The acting in this film benefited from the screenplay, but also from the excellent actors chosen for the film. Sheen, Berenger, and Dafoe seem to anchor the movie, each playing counterpoint to someone else throughout the story. Dillon, Depp, Whitaker, and David all bring unique characters to life. These roles defined the differing points of view within the military, and also within the different backgrounds the soldiers came from. Overall this was a nicely acted film, earning Berenger and Dafoe Academy Award nominations for their parts.
Visually, this movie does its best to recreate the jungles of Vietnam. The stunt work and special effects create an intense and often gruesome depiction of war. The cinematography is also excellent, taking advantage of the natural landscapes and nicely designed sets. The filming was done in the Philippine jungles on the island of Luzon, and Vietnamese refugees were included in the cast for authenticity. Adding to the authenticity of the filming, the cast was also given a two-week training that included living in wartime conditions. Stone later said that he did this to “mess with their heads so we could get that dog-tired, don’t give a damn attitude, the anger, the irritation… the casual approach to death”. It worked, and the film feels gritty and intense throughout.
If this film has any true weakness, it comes from the agenda of Oliver Stone. Like most of his work dealing with war or politics, Stone cannot seem to be subtle about the point he’s trying to make. This doesn’t kill the movie, but it’s something to take into consideration if you’re not in agreement with his politics. Some of the scenes in the movie seem placed there simply to push the agenda, and unfortunately this seems to slow the pace of the film just a bit. This isn’t a major flaw, and I still love the film, just something to consider.
This is a great movie, and one that fans of war films should enjoy. The acting, visuals and the incredible score all come together perfectly. If you’re a fan of any of the actors, you should definitely see this one. I would also recommend this one to fans of drama and action films since it’s got plenty of both. I give this one 4.7 out of 5 stars.