Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Day 102: Full Metal Jacket

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #81
Year: 1987
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Matthew Modine and Adam Baldwin

This is a convenient post to do today since I covered another Vietnam War movie in yesterday's edition of the blog. Full Metal Jacket is considered by many to be the last masterpiece Stanley Kubrick's storied career would produce – only the semi-surreal, semi-enjoyable Eyes Wide Shut would follow it – and to some it is the quintessential Vietnam movie. In fact, a friend of mine whose grandfather served in that conflict says it's the closest he's seen Hollywood getting to recreating his experience there. Alright, fair enough. It certainly doesn't eschew any realism in its ultimate goal of being an entertaining film. But somehow, and perhaps it's just because Apocalypse Now is so fresh in my mind, it just doesn't measure up to what its director is capable of, or what its genre has the potential to deliver.

Now before you go kicking my ass, allow me one concession: Yes, the entire boot camp portion of Full Metal Jacket is brilliant. It adequately demonstrates the emotional distress of military training, gives the film 99% of its famous scenes and lines, and lends it its title in a truly chilling context. But how many people remember what happens after boot camp ends? Yes, yes, "Me love you long time," but how much else? Chances are, not much. Full Metal Jacket is sadly one of the most front-loaded movies of all time, and its depictions of the Tet Offensive and life for American soldiers walking around Hanoi simply aren't that interesting. Hell, the main character ends up becoming a journalist, and I still can't muster up the energy to care about what happens to him. Unlike the wholly unique Apocalypse Now, this movie mostly uses recycled war film elements to tell a far-too-familiar story about missions, battles, the boredom between those things, and the "world of shit" that is combat.

It pains to me to say these things, because between 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining alone, Stanley Kubrick easily carves out a place for himself as one of my five or ten favorite directors of all time – and most of his other films are fairly remarkable works that add icing to the cake – but I can't in good conscience describe Full Metal Jacket, on the whole, with any word other than "overrated." Accurate, perhaps, but interesting? For the most part, no.

The Good: Extending the boot camp/training act into a short feature length film would significantly improve my opinion of it. I just went over to Netflix to see how long that part is, and it's 46 minutes. That's well on its way to being a film.

The Bad: To zero in on one thing, there's no great performances. To to be more general, over half of it is boring.

The Skinny: #81 is way over the top, and to be honest, I'd be perfectly comfortable if it missed the cut entirely.


  1. My grandpa said the film was very accurate. Especially the boot camp part. I've never seen this movie, but what my grandpa (a retired Marine who served in Vietnam)said, I really want to.

  2. For an overall depiction of the Vietnam War, Apocalypse Now is much more visually interesting, well-written, and well-acted movie. For boot camp, you can't beat the first 46 minutes of this one.

  3. Well on imdb.com I have this movie rated 5/10. It was a really big dissapointment and a really bad introduction to Kubrick (I saw it in English class about 2-3 years ago). So far everything else I have seen from Kubrick has been a lot better then FMJ (well Strangelove wasn't a lot better imo, but a bit better :D ).
    And yeah the first half was definetly better, but dunno, none of the halfs I actually enjoyed a lot, except few scenes.