At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Platoon

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: War/ Stars: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Keith David, Forest Whitaker, Francesco Quinn, Kevin Dillon, John C. McGinley, Reggie Johnson, Mark Moses, Corey Glover, Johnny Depp, Bob Orwig, Corkey Ford, Richard Edson, Tony Todd, Dale Dye/ Runtime: 120 minutes

I feel that it goes without saying, but of all the conflicts that the United States has ever been involved in, I think that the Vietnam War will always be one of the more infamous if not controversial. Indeed this is a war that not only was seen by many as unnecessary, but was just an unpleasant experience for everyone involved from those back home to the men who went over there and came back changed to the very core. So with this still-lingering rancor and hostility in place, a young filmmaker named Oliver Stone decided to harness his own personal experiences and utilize them to make a film that could illustrate to everyone what Vietnam was like from his perspective. The end result of this endeavor was Platoon, and having seen it, I can honestly say that this is not just one of the more potent, and powerful war films made. Indeed it is also a well-made, well-cast, and hauntingly well-done look at just what exactly the madness in Vietnam must’ve looked like among those who fought in it when they fought in it.

The plot is as follows: At the height of the Vietnam War, young men from all walks of life in America are finding themselves drafted into the war effort only to find themselves in the middle of Hell. One of these young men is a kid by the name of Chris Taylor, and upon his arrival in ‘Nam, finds himself is placed in a squadron where their top two sergeants have conflicting approaches to the war as we see one is more about surviving without being brutal or cruel, whereas the other is crueler, more ruthless and more violent. So it is that during the course of his tour of duty that Taylor finds his very soul torn between the two men as he must ultimately decide not only who he wishes to follow, but also how he intends to come to grips with just what exactly he finds himself doing while “in the line of duty”….

Now the reason that, in my opinion, this is one of the best war movies ever made is because, unlike some war movies, I feel that this one manages to capture in its entirety the utter hell that one finds themselves wrapped up in every single moment that they are overseas fighting in a conflict. Indeed the fear of one’s own demise, the witnessing of compatriots you’ve come to trust with your life dying in front of you, divisions in the platoon due to differences of tactics, the guilt of killing innocent people; it’s all here for your viewing “pleasure” and Stone never once tries to disguise it. Indeed Platoon is one of the most honestly written war movies ever made and it is this honesty that I think is a huge part of what makes the film so great. Yet for those who think this movie sounds like an anti-war war film make no mistake: Platoon is not an anti-war movie, but at the same time this movie certainly does not glorify war in any way; rather it simply chooses to showcase just how war is in its entirety for those who either fight or have fought in it.

Indeed this film is also unique amongst war films in how much it is devoted to its cast of characters and their relationships with each other; yet at the same time it also manages to showcase some truly compelling action sequences that truly help to drive home the point that war is hell. Sure there are moments that are a bit lighter, but overall it is pure unadulterated hell and for the entirety of this film’s 120 minute runtime you feel that every single second. Now I also felt that the main character’s story was very good because by showing his growth during his time in ‘Nam, he gets to experience the horrors of war at the same time as the audience. Thus by film’s end we see that what we were given was a cinematic surrogate who expresses many of the same things that we would in such a position thus making for a unique yet refreshing viewing experience.

Now the cast in this film is nothing short of excellent. This of course starts with Charlie Sheen who, surprise, can actually act when put in the hands of a director who knows just what to do to bring a great performance out of him. Thankfully Oliver Stone was always one of those directors, and as a result, Sheen manages to give one of his career-best performances here. Indeed it is truly a marvel to watch him grow from a naive probie to a hardened warrior albeit one who is constantly unsure of what exactly is the right way to handle things in the war zone he is a part of. We also get career-best performances from Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe as the platoon’s 2 ideology-competing sergeants Barnes and Elias respectively. Indeed it really is a marvelous balancing act as Berenger manages to properly instill in Barnes just the right level of psychotic and ruthless, and Dafoe always manages to counter perfectly with just the right touch of decency and humanity. We also get a lot of fantastic smaller performances from the game supporting cast including turns from Keith David, Johnny Depp, Forest Whittaker, John C. McGinley, Tony Todd, Kevin Dillon, etc. as the rest of the platoon. Indeed, looking back I can honestly say that there really isn’t a true weak link amongst the cast as everyone recognizes the importance of the material, and so all manage to give 110% in every moment they get on screen.

Now I think it should go without saying, but I think this is one of the few times where a filmmaker has perfectly captured on film just war looks like. Indeed this is a film where the frantic shooting and the impossibility of following actually work to the benefit, rather than detriment, of witnessing the brutality of the finished product firsthand. The reasoning behind this being that, just like soldiers in an actual combat zone, we as audience members are completely disoriented and have no idea who is being shot at, who’s gone down, and thus we are given a look at how war is conducted that is more intimate than most films of this ilk. Also worthy of notice is the film’s soundtrack. Indeed while there are one or 2 songs from the era designed to help break the tension, this film contains a score that is very haunting, emotional, and utilized to wonderful effect in making you think you’re actually in the jungle with these men.

All in all Platoon is more than just a well-made movie about one young man’s experiences in war. It is also a meditation on the hell of war, the inhumanity or humanity of man against his fellow man, but also a stark and emotional reminder that once you step foot into combat, you are never the same and that even when the chopper or plane brings you home that not all of you comes back. Indeed a small part of you is still out there, lying in wait, fighting an enemy that you may not fully understand in a conflict that you may not fully think you have a chance of surviving….On a scale of 1-5 I give Platoon a solid 4.5 out of 5.

I know we are a day early, but we here on the At the Movies desk would just like to wish a very Happy Veteran’s Day 2019 to all the men and women who have served in our armed forces both past and present! Thank you for your service and for all that you have done in defending this country! Ag