#117 / 365 – ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979) – 153 mins
Cinema Challenge #47 / 115
Troubled veteran Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) is recuperating in Saigon when he’s offered a new mission. His task is to travel deep into the Cambodian jungle to locate and assassinate Colonel Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who appears to have gone insane and now commands a renegade native army. After witnessing the destruction of a village by Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) and his airborne cavalry, Willard and his crew embark on a dangerous journey upstream towards Kurtz’s outpost.
“The horror! The horror!” – Apocalypse Now was a horror to make for director Francis Ford Copolla, in the 1977 press the wildly ambitious project was often rumoured to be a total disaster, Martin Sheen only 36, suffered a heart attack during filming, the production mostly on location in the Philippines was was also beseiged by extreme weather that destroyed several expensive sets, the shoot was meant to be 6 months but ended up taking 16 months to complete. In addition, the release date was pushed back several times as Copolla struggled to come up with an ending amongst the astonishing 200 hours of footage he had shot.
Featuring some unique and unforgettable cinematography, the breathtaking chopper scene that beats to a pulsating score of Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries” – this and other scenes are masterfully paced as each one flows into the next it makes for this feeling that everything is running together seamlessly.
The acting in Apocalypse Now is absolutely phenomenal, Martin Sheen gives some deep and powerful narration from Willard’s perspective of the harrowing events he is experiencing. Marlon Brando even though he turned up late, overweight and unprepared gives an astounding performance as the deranged Kurtz with nonsensical philosophies. Although limited in the screen time he was given, Robert Duvall steals the show by giving a commanding performance as Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore, the surfing-obsessed officer whilst declaring his “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”.
Having watched this the theatrical and the Redux version (brings an extra 53 minutes to the table) on several occasions, this was my first big screen experience of the one of the greatest war films of all time and brought about an even more surreal experience that holds you with intense focus. Apocalypse Now is a rare work of genius in Francis Ford Copolla and it should always be appreciated for not only being a pure piece of cinematic art but also one of unique ambition.