Francis Ford Coppola is one of my favorite directors ever, and he has done another great job with "Gardens of Stone." I had only the tiniest fraction of an idea what this film was about prior to watching it, so I had no expectations going in. The film opens with a powerful scene; a soldier is being buried in Arlington, and Coppola spends long moments on the widow's anguished face; Mary Stuart Masterson conveys such depths of sorrow that tears welled in my eyes instantly, even though I didn't know who any of the characters were at that point, or understand how the soldier had died.
Sadly, the relationship between Masterson and Sweeny didn't get fleshed out fully through the movie, and I wish it had been - it would have added another layer to Sweeny's character. The relationship that was most interesting in the story is that between James Caan and James Earl Jones; they play old war buddies and best friends, and they do an excellent job of it. Their facial expressions, body language, voice inflections, everything - they are truly outstanding actors.
There are many moments of laughter in the film, followed by powerful and profound moments of sorrow, and Coppola balances them out very well. It's a film primarily about friendship, but also about love, respect, politics, living and dying. I really recommend it to anyone who enjoys military movies, but it's not *just* an Army movie. Truly exceptional.