Thursday, October 20, 2011

Platoon (Stone. 1986)

"Somebody once wrote: "Hell is the impossibility of reason." That's what this place feels like. Hell."


Oliver Stone fought in the Vietnam War. He saw the fighting first hand, and luckily survived long enough to tell audiences about his experiences. There had been movies made about Vietnam, but none were like Platoon. Here is a film that did not glorify anything about war- including the people fighting it. It seems to scrutinize the idea of a patriotic duty. Stone wrote the screenplay as an eyewitness counter to the John Wayne depiction of war in The Green Berets (1968). In fact, Platoon is an anti-war movie; it is one of the first films to do this successfully.

The story is about a middle class American college student named Chris. Played brilliantly by a non-crazy Charlie Sheen, Chris joined the military on his own free will because he felt it was his "patriotic duty". As soon as he arrives in the jungle of 'Nam, he realizes that war is nothing like he had been taught in history class. The more veteran soldiers in his platoon warn him that he will not survive in war. He is not meant to be there. He is too smart, rich, white and innocent.

Stone has said that the character of Chris is heavily based on his own personal experience as an infantry man during the war. The audience watches as their protagonist and narrator loses his smile and tumbles into mental instability. He also shows the audience the trials of the people around him. This is the supporting cast that really makes the movie work.

One of the thickest side-plots in the film is between the dueling sergeants played by Willem Defoe and Tom Berenger. Defoe plays an understanding and sympathetic soldier while Berenger is cutthroat and ruthless. Their conflicting styles continuously clash until they culminate in the film's most famous moment. I wont tell you what happens - you should see it for yourself. It is emotional, raw and terribly sad.

What makes Platoon different than any war movie that I have seen at this point in my life is that the audience is not excited for the violence and the big fight scenes. Instead, they are afraid. Every scene seems to have the potential to end in bloody mayhem. There is very little peace in Platoon. There is no moment for the audience to feel calm. This is the closest to knowing war that an audience had come to at this point through a movie.

When soldiers are overseas they are protecting the freedoms that America was founded on. With Platoon, Oliver Stone argues that the soldiers in Vietnam were fighting for nothing other than their lives. Soldiers die. They often die in extremely painful, scarring and frightening ways. John Wayne did not tell that to consumers. Stone told us the truth from his own accounts of the Vietnam jungle during wartime. It is a terrifying and thought-provoking film with a great cast and a serious message. It was the Academy Award winner as the Best Picture of 1986 - and it remains one of the finest war films ever produced.

Platoon: A

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