Monday, 16 November 2009

I Don't Need This Shit! I Am Reality!

Platoon is probably the best war movie I've seen yet. Oliver Stone's incredible break-out success as a director (he had previously won a screenplay Oscar for Midnight Express, but this was his big directing success - according to Box Office Mojo it took over US$130mil from a US$6mil budget...back in 1986) netted him a directing Oscar and the film a Best Picture statue, amongst six other nominations.

Stone, himself a Vietnam vet, wrote this powerful story centring on the beginnings of a year-long tour by Chris (Charlie Sheen), though the incredible standouts came from Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger as Sergeants Elias and Barnes respectively. Their relationship was heated, confrontational and deadly in many ways, exacerbated by the horrible nature of the Vietnam War and their equivalent rankings. Their completely different takes on right and wrong, and the influence they had on the men in their command, affects the viewer's morality in unnerving and uncomfortable ways. We'd all like to be the compassionate liberal portrayed by Dafoe, but a part of you understands the trauma and torment running through the veins of Berenger's Barnes. And they completely nailed their performances.

Sheen's Chris, however, left me wanting. I've never been a Charlie Sheen fan, in anything (though I've never seen Two And A Half Men, so maybe all the awards mean something), and I'm not a fan here. It might just be a personal dislike, but his actions and motivations fail to ring true throughout the film. His character develops, on paper, but I don't see him going through the journey - I see him saying the words, and pulling the faces, but I don't believe it.

Nothing, however, can take away from Stone's masterful and harrowing direction, not even Sheen's sub-par contribution. Some monumentally iconic and memorable shots, scenes and words pummel you from the screen. A few points had me audibly gasping. The score fell together perfectly (and while the repeated use of Barber's Adagio For Strings did start to grate through the film, it did become a warm blanket by the end), all of the other performances were fantastic (brief yet incredible turns from Johnny Depp, Kevin Dillon and Forest Whitaker being particular highlights), stunning scenery captured perfectly - it all blended to make a war movie that felt powerful and triumphant whilst simultaneously deriding the war and the politics at hand. I think that only a veteran of the war could truly undermine it in such a way whilst holding the soldiers who fought in it up as such heroes. The film is telling us that, like it or not, war happens. And in war, shit happens. And some of that shit is really, really bad. Some of the things people do are really, really bad. But, for the most part (though not all), respect must be given to those who fight them because when you're out there you just don't have a choice.

Platoon has a new relevance now, with much of the Western world embroiled in a couple of sagas that seem to be heading down the same route as Vietnam (when can we stop with the rhetoric and just admit that Afghanistan and Iraq are unmitigated disasters?) The film looks at the futility of going in against an enemy (who are, for all intents and purposes, unjudged in the film - they are treated as the enemy, but in much the same way as I imagine the Na'vi will be treated in Avatar. There is inherent racism, but it is also a one-sided look at the war) who know the lay of the land so much better, who are much more knowledgeable about the jungle and what it holds, and who are willing to risk everything to hold on to what they have. And doesn't that sound like something going on right now?

4.5 stars for Platoon. That the film overcomes the weakness of the lead to the extent that it only loses half a star is testament to the combined power of the other elements.

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