Quick Hit: One of the best of a crop of anti-war movies.
Buckle in children, Uncle David is about to lay down some knowledge. Between 1950s and the 1970s, the United States entered two wars in the Asian theater. Both introduced American GIs to a whole new style of combat and enemy, along with devastating new weapons. They were also some of the first wars where our reasons for being there were less clear than before. This led to a whole generation of young men that were incredibly disillusioned by their involvements, by their losses, and by their experience in the jungles of South Asia.
One of the issues with many movies about war prior to the movies released in the 80s was their tendency to glorify the experience of the young men. War is not beautiful – war is bloody, muddy, dirty, and the killing of other human beings corrupts your soul. I don’t think movies handled this very well until after Vietnam, with movies like Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, and of course, Platoon. Featuring an extremely young Charlie Sheen, along with Tom Berenger (Inception, Major League), John C. McGinley (Se7en, Belko Experiment, Scrubs) Willem Dafoe (Grand Budapest Hotel, The Boondock Saints), and Johnny Depp, the film is filled with one of the most talented casts you’ll see.
Outside of Sheen, who allows himself to be the canvas for the audience to project themselves on, there is a variety of different characters – and with that, a variety of reactions to the atrocities of war. Tom Berenger has been there so long that the line between friend and enemy has begun to blur. His scarred Sgt. Barnes is vicious and terrifying in his invincibility and his animal-like demeanor. Mr. McGinley does a terrific job maintaining a tough guy composure up until he’s asked to go to the lines. And yet, in doing so, he presents someone who can’t be described as cowardly. Though previous war heroes may have stormed the lines of the enemy, who among us wouldn’t be tempted to hide in our hold and play dead? Willem Dafoe has his own means of escape, which involves the blissful embrace of pot. All around young Sheen (who himself was designed on Oliver Stone (the writer/director) and his own experience in Vietnam), young men are becoming desensitized to everything going on around them.
The plot of the movie is much like the plot of the war itself – move forward in between engagements with the enemy. Some of these are filled with tension, with every hole in the ground a spot the enemy could be hiding. Other scenes make you cringe in their intensity – I’m thinking particularly of the village scene here – and Stone is unflinching in allowing the camera to come at these events from all angles. It’s an immersive style of filming that is nearly POV, and it makes some scenes nearly too intense to watch.
There’s also the fact that you almost never see the Vietcong directly. The only shots I can think of that involve them are in the finale, and the majority of the Vietcong that you see are already dead. This helps further the plot of having enemies amongst the platoon itself, because the friend and foe is so blurred now.
Platoon is an amazing war film, with a very poignant anti-war message. I think everyone should watch it. It also has one of the best covers ever. I’m giving the movie an “A”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"