Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 149: Platoon

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #138
Year: 1986
Director: Oliver Stone
Starring: Charlie Sheen and Willem Dafoe

Platoon isn't a subtle movie, but then, Vietnam wasn't a subtle war. Charlie Sheen's character wrestles with two sides of himself, embodied by two of his platoon's leaders, played by Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger (both of whom were Oscar-nominated for their roles), and he tells us outright that they represent those sides of him. The film is an exploration of how these two forces – the sacred and the profane, if you will – interact both within and without Sheen's character during his year in Vietnam. It's about the duality of human nature, and it's all filtered through Oliver Stone's best (and perhaps only truly noteworthy) direction, rooted more deeply in the jungles of Vietnam than any comparable films. It's also pretty cool to see Charlie Sheen in one of his few dramatic roles playing a character facing his demons in Vietnam, just like his father did seven years earlier in Apocalypse Now. And while Platoon doesn't exactly compare to that film, it's still one of the finest records of the Vietnam War that Hollywood has given us.

As a war movie, Platoon isn't particularly profound. It's got all the hallmarks and tropes of the genre, and it executes them all to Oscar-baiting perfection. Since the movie focuses on an entire platoon, there's a great ensemble cast with a lot of now-big actors, and seeing their chemistry is a lot of fun. Sheen, Berenger, Dafoe, Kevin Dillon, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Depp, John C. McGinley and others each play one of the standard war movie character types, but the interaction of those types when executed well will never not be entertaining. With such an all-star cast, the usual interactions are even more of a joy to watch. All of those guys would go on to play a character or two that are absolutely ingrained in my psyche as a lover of movies (and television, in Kevin "Johnny Drama" Dillon and John C. "Dr. Cox" McGinley's cases), so seeing them work together in a movie that's now twenty-four years old was a lot of fun for me. The actors definitely make the film in this case.

The plot is typical Oliver Stone fare. It's leftist, showing only the worst parts of the Vietnam War and suggesting that incidents like what went down at My Lai were far more prevalent than we'd like to think. There are scenes of murder and rape by United States military men, and there are strong implications of intentional friendly fire. It paints Vietnam as ugly, and rightly so. Shockingly, it manages to remain mostly un-preachy – though some of that may come from my own personal opposition to the Vietnam War and my willingness to believe damn near anything about its mishandling. The cast plays it well and for the most part, with Berenger and Dillon's characters as notable exceptions, communicate a hate-the-war-not-the-soldier message, which is what I think films with this much of an anti-war agenda should try to do. Platoon is definitely no Apocalypse Now, but it's arguably a full step above Full Metal Jacket in the canon of Vietnam classics.

The Good: The ensemble cast is brilliant (and probably underpaid).

The Bad: The end monologue is pretty hackneyed and provides no catharsis.

The Skinny: I can dig it in the 250, but #138 may be a little high.

1 comment:

  1. #138 sounds fine to me. I was surprised that I found Charlie Sheen rather convincing. He was very young, but he managed to do everything he should.
    I also found interesting that a father and son are both filmed in two of the best Vietnam movies. I would still lean more towards Apocalypse Now in terms of greatness.