Friday, June 21, 2013

Platoon review

War is hell. Oliver Stone's anti-war feature can be described with three simple words. Stone's directorial breakthrough is a sucker punch of a war film, one that made me have strong feelings about the Vietnam War and elicited a reaction from me that I hadn't felt. His film isn't necessarily graphic in its violence, but its well-executed tension and shock value make for an emotion roller-coaster. Not to mention a delectably odd performance by Willem Dafoe and the pure evil of Tom Berenger, Platoon sends you on an incredibly interesting, but not always wholly satisfactory ride. That said, if you want to experience the horrors of war on film to know what these soldiers went through: start with Platoon.

Platoon is a non-narrative feature. I really didn't know that going into watching it, but I realized that Platoon had much more interesting things up its sleeve. However, if you're expecting a fully-fleshed story, you won't get it. Platoon is a message movie. But unlike other message movies that pound you over the head with what they want to get across, Platoon actually convinces you of what it wants. Essentially, the plot is that Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) joins the army and witnesses the horrors of war and the frightening ubiquity of the Vietnam war: you can't trust anyone. Not even your own Staff Sargent, Barnes (Tom Berenger), a ruthless thug who kills with ease.

At first, I was a bit confused by Platoon. It feels like a bit of mash-up of brutally bloodless violence, marijuana use and profane language, trying to fully elicit a reaction out of you that war is hell. However, you will eventually fall under the disturbing spell of Platoon, as it really is a perfect portrayal of the way that we fought in Vietnam. It's taut, tense and frighteningly indecisive. You really aren't sure who to root for. Even Chris, our hero, kills a man character and screams obscenities at poor Vietnamese farmers. It's a really interesting premise.

My favorite thing about this movie is the way that it depicts the Vietnam war. The enemy was unclear and danger was always present. Platoon is perfect in its depiction of that guerrilla war. The tension is present throughout the film as most scenes, the soldiers are wandering around the jungle. Also, the last half of the movie truly convinces you that war is hell. The final battle sequence is powerful and harrowing and when the final title card hits the screen saying: "This film is dedicated to the men who fought and died in Vietnam", it hits you like a sucker punch. It's powerful. By the end of this film, I was ready to say that the Vietnam war was a complete atrocity both for the Americans who had to suffer through the pain and suffering but the Vietnamese people who were raped and murdered because of the war.

This film also proved to me that war movies can be harrowing and disturbing by sometimes showing less not more. Platoon's most graphic scene is a shot of a man's arms blown off, but its most disturbing is one where you don't see a single thing. It's intense and graphically frightening without actually showing the horrific act done by the soldier with a rifle. Oliver Stone's film is very well constructed in that respect.

The acting's fine. Nothing great, nothing abysmal. Willem Dafoe is always fun to watch, but he essentially plays the same character in a lot of his movies. His Elias is a sympathetic character who is one of the few purely good characters in the film. He has morals, he has values and while Charlie Sheen's Chris has those as well, he still has rage-filled outbursts and murders a man in cold blood. Tom Berenger is delectably evil but his performance is more steely cold than anything.

The major problem I had with this film, besides the complete lack of a real narrative, was the script. While the movie is well constructed in its form, and features weighty and interesting themes, the dialogue borders on a disaster at times. I'm not an anti-swear word person, I frankly don't care if you curse or not, but Platoon takes it to an extreme that frankly got pretty annoying. The dialogue is so peppered with profanity, that it becomes distracting. There isn't a ton of dialogue, but when there is, I can guarantee you that every sentence will have a f**k or a s**t in it. It's borderline ridiculous.

But in the end, I really found Platoon to be an emotionally affecting film and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. It's very 80's with some cheesy war effects and things of the sort. Honestly, if you want story, go somewhere else. But if you want a war film that is going to give you something to think about, go with Platoon. It's not an entertaining one, but not all the great ones are. It's emotional, raw (a little too raw at times), and tough to watch. It sends its message clearly: war is hell and anyone who likes it is sick.

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-


1 comment:

  1. Ronald H. Witt Illinois saw it when it first came out and im almost surprised to say that it hasn't aged on a current viewing. it should be shown in history classes

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