#166 / 365 – ‘Platoon’ (1986) – 120 mins
IMDb Challenge #98 / 250 – Ranked #144 – Via DVD Collection
A Young recruit Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) arrives in Vietnam. Initially, he is mostly isolated from the rest of his platoon given that he is new to the unit. Over time, after witnessing combat and getting wounded, Taylor becomes more integrated into his unit. At the same time, tensions emerge in not only the brutal and confusing war but also between two experienced, but two very different sergeants…
There’s an opening sequence in Platoon of where a jaded and broken soldier is returning home from the Vietnam War and glances across to the young and fresh-faced recruit of Chris Taylor who’s heading out on his first tour of duty. No words are spoken, yet the glance speaks volumes, in saying that you have no idea what hell you’re heading into – such a powerful shot.
In the past when talking to people on films that deal with American conflict of the 20th century, there are always three defining ones that enter the discussion, Michael Cimino’s intense ‘The Deer Hunter’, Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’, and Oliver Stone’s ‘Platoon’, a semi-autobiographical portrait, after serving as an infantryman in Vietnam. For me of the trio, Coppola’s offers the best and most surreal experience but Stone’s is the most harrowing. It’s inevitable that Platoon is to Vietnam to what ‘All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)’ (a film that was enjoyed on day 77 of the challenge) is to World War I – a brutal and uncompromising look at the effect war has on the mind and spirit of men who cheerfully go to war with pride and ultimately come back home broken. Like within that masterpiece, again here there’s no razzmatazz, it’s just basic and powerful storytelling.
Of the performances three stand out, Willem Defoe is memorable as the peace-loving Sgt. Elias and Tom Berenger proves to be equally effective as the sadistic Sgt. Barnes. Charlie Sheen gives a good central performance of the recruit trying to make sense of it all, but sometimes he comes off a little one-dimensional in the role. A little bit of fun can be had in spotting familiar faces in a ‘before they were famous’ kind of way, with a young Johnny Depp, Kevin Dillon and Forest Whitaker in supporting roles.
Platoon was the first chapter in the controversial directors so-called “Vietnam Trilogy”, which also includes ‘Born on the Fourth of July (1989)’ and ‘Heaven and Earth’ (1993). I have yet to cross the path of Heaven and Earth, but have seen Born on the Fourth of July and although it’s a compelling a film, I feel it’s a step down from Platoon.
Stone’s vivid portrayal of the conflict won the plaudits of the Academy and was honoured with four Oscars at the 1987 ceremony, Best Director, Best Picture, Best Editing and Best Sound. With Platoon, Stone made his mark as a great filmmaker and even if he never reaches these heights again, he deserves to be remembered for this one defining film.