on April 25, 2004
A 1986 depiction of the American forces in Vietnam, Oliver Stone's Platoon gives incredible insight into the lunacy caused from war with its emotional and harsh representation of American soldiers slipping into darkness during their tour of duty through Vietnam. Charlie Sheen stars as Chris, a college drop out who volunteers for combat and instead goes to hell. Torn by the insanity that is prominent in the brutality of Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger) and the unrealistic morality of Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe), Chris soon realizes the cold and despair felt by all.
This classic Vietnam portrayal won four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Director. Platoon delved past the initial us and them conflict. Not only showing the dispute with the Viet Cong, it represented a civil war between the soldiers themselves with the violent followers of Barnes versus the moral personalities supporting Elias, and even divided them through their differences in drug choices. Not for family viewing, Platoon is a classic illustration of the madness brought on by combat, and is for all who want to learn of the Vietnam experience.
on April 13, 2004
All the praise that this film has garnered, both from fans and critics is absolutely justified after watching this amazing film. This has all the ingredients of fine filmmaking: great acting, a solid script, clever direction, and impressive prowess concerning all the technical aspects such as cinematography and film editing. The acting, for the most part, is excellent. Tom Berenger has the best performance of his long career in this film, chewing up the scenery alongside some other fine supporting turns. Willem Dafoe, better known these days as The Green Goblin in the film "Spiderman," is equally noteworthy as an elite soldier who no longer believes in the war, but is willing to do whatever is necessary to insure the safety of his men and himself. This is an exceptional cast. The only weak performance here is a short scene with director Oliver Stone pretending to act, and doing it badly. But the scene is brief, and it was his movie, after all. The script, which was written by director Stone, hovers between the crude dialogue of the common soldiery and the philosophical narration of the title character, Taylor, played by Charlie Sheen. But with the soldiers there is never a wasted syllable, and while walking precariously along the cliffs of sanctimony the main character's thoughts are nevertheless firmly grounded in the nightmarish reality of war. Director Oliver Stone is fearless here, commanding extended tracking shots and provoking his large cast into heartfelt renderings of these realistic characters. All the characters are in the least, memorable, at their best, haunting. There are two scenes that work so well as to go unnoticed. One is when Barnes(Berenger) is moving through the jungle slowly from the right of the screen to the left. The film cuts to Elias(Dafoe) running from left to right. A headlong collision is inevitable at some point, but tension is built up sufficiently so that when they finally do come face-to-face the audience knows something bad is going to happen. Another scene is directly after a huge Napalm strike. The screen goes bright white, then slowly fades in showing the jungle in stark black-and-white photography with the color creeping in as the camera pans right to show a stunned and bewildered Taylor(Sheen) rising up and regaining his wits. Stone won his first Oscar for Best Director for his work here. This film won a total of 4 Oscars: Director(Stone), Film Editing, Sound, and Best Picture. It was nominated for 8 Oscars, the remaining 4 include Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor for both Berenger and Dafoe, and Cinematography. The cinematography is superb, the gifted Robert Richardson working the lenses. He and Oliver Stone tag-teamed once again 3 years later for "Born on the Fourth of July," both collecting Oscar nominations, Stone winning for the second time. In 1991 they worked together on the film "JFK," both were nominated once more, and Richardson finally won the Oscar. "Platoon" is the beginning of this magnificent collaboration, and is certainly one of the more intense Vietnam War films ever brought to the screen.
on February 2, 2004
Director Oliver Stone has assembled an all-star cast for this fine film about the life of an Army platoon in the Vietnam war. Charlie Sheen stars as Chris Taylor, a privleged college drop-out who volunteers for infantry duty in Vietnam. He believes that its unfair for the poor boys to be fighting the war while the rich get to stay at home. Once in Vietnam, he is assigned to a platoon commanded by Sgt. Barnes, played magnificently by Tom Berenger. Barnes is a hard-drinking, hard-fighting soldier who, according to the film, had been shot seven times and survived. Barnes' only thought is to destroy the elusive Viet Cong. Also in the platoon is another sergeant, Sgt. Elias, played by Willem Dafoe. Elias is the polar opposite of Barnes. He has grown tired of the war after several tours of duty, but he still believes in the fighting man himself.
What occurs throughout the movie can only be described as a "civil war". Half of the men side with Barnes and his gung-ho attitude, while the rest side with Elias and his compassionate style. The friction between Barnes and Elias reaches a boiling point when the group burns down a suspected V.C. village. Elias believes that Barnes acted too quickly and threatens to report him to the C.O. A fear begins to exist for Taylor and the rest of the platoon from both outside and inside.
The fighting in the movie is very realistic and graphic, while the army life in general is accurately portrayed. The fire fight at the end of the movie between the Americans and the V.C. is especially well-done.
I've seen this movie several times, and I enjoy it each time I see it. The acting is excellent, and the realism is first-rate. Berenger and Dafoe were both nominated for Academy Awards for their fine performances, while the movie itself won for Best Picture. Other movies released during the same time (Full Metal Jacket, Hamburger Hill) were good, but Platoon stands out as the best in my opinion. Watch and feel the power of Platoon; a gripping film about a war we may not want to remember, but one we must never forget.
on December 24, 2003
It is an historical fact that the United States never lost a war until it set its feet into a country called Vietnam. That is what is at the root of writer/director Oliver Stone's masterpice PLATOON, a portrait of that protracted "police action" against communism in southeast Asia that sent 58,000 American soldiers and almost two million Vietnamese citizens to their graves.
Largely semi-autobiographical, since Stone served in Vietnam as the war was beginning to reach a fever pitch (1967-68), PLATOON places Charlie Sheen as a green Army recruit into the middle of the war, realizing after only one week of service that he made a very bad mistake. The battles he faces are not just with the elusive Vietcong, but also within his own platoon--the conflict between the more level-headed and humanistic Elias (Willem Dafoe) and the vicous, cold-blooded Barnes (Tom Berenger). Sheen's character is a survivor, but something is clearly taken from him during his Vietnam sojourn, as it was for hundreds of thousands of our soldiers and the Vietnamese people caught in the crossfire. And that something is Innocence--always the first casualty of war, as the movie's slogan says.
It took ten long and frustrating years for Stone to get this from the writing stage to actually making the movie itself, but the film's completion paid off in dividends. In PLATOON, Stone shows that the Vietcong were tremendous fighters and willing to take chances, not the sitting ducks depicted in Sylvester Stallone's "Rambo" movies or, even more infamously, in John Wayne's THE GREEN BERETS. It also shows how American soldiers bought their racial prejudices from home over to Asia and how, under the right conditions, young men can snap and engage in atrocious and barbaric behavior. The film doesn't depict this as right or wrong; it just depicts things the way Stone remembers it. The haunting imagery of death and pain in the film is magnified by Stone's decision to famously use Samuel Barber's masterpiece "Adagio For Strings" as this movie's musical calling card.
Sheen gamely follows in his father Martin Sheen's footsteps as Stone's alter-ego Chris Taylor; and Dafoe and (particularly) Berenger are excellent as sergeants in conflict. Berenger's famous quote sums up why he is what he is: "I got no fight with any man who does what he's told. But when he don't, the machine breaks down. And when the machine breaks down, WE break down."
PLATOON justifiably won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director for Stone, making him a bankable, if often controversial, Hollywood powerbroker from here on in. In later years, he would explore other aspects of the Vietnam conflict, especially in BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY and HEAVEN AND EARTH. PLATOON is HIS story, and it is one of the most powerful films ever made in Hollywood history.
on February 15, 2003
In one sense this can be seen as Oliver Stone's attempt to account for the massacre at My Lai for which Lt. William Calley was famously court-martialed. One recalls a statement made at the time by somebody in close concert with the logic of the Vietnam War: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it." But more inclusively, Oliver Stone's film addresses the question of what war does to us as it focuses on Pvt. Chris Taylor, played by Charlie Sheen, who gave up his student deferment, joined the army and volunteered to fight in Vietnam as his patriotic duty. How the twisted logic of war changes him and corrupts him and others in his platoon is the story of the film.
To Oliver Stone's credit it can be said that this movie, first released in 1989, helped to shock a new generation of Americans into understanding just why our involvement in Vietnam was a tragic mistake and to warn us not to do anything like that again. The fact that recent military adventures by the US have been limited engagements with limited objectives (instead of the vague and unrestricted policy of stopping the spread of communism, which was the rationale for the war in Vietnam)--engagements that have been carefully orchestrated to avoid becoming mired in the kind of hand-to-hand combat favoring the side defending its own turf as shown in this film, owes something to Stone's vision and to that of other film makers. One also recalls Senator Barry Goldwater R, Arizona) who advocated "winning" the war in Vietnam by "bombing them back into the Stone Age." Stone's film suggests just how impossible that would have been.
Tom Berenger gives a splendid and somewhat horrific performance as Sgt. Barnes, the "War Lover" (the phrase is the title of John Hersey's WWII novel), who kills both friend and foe indiscriminately. Willem DaFoe plays his opposite, Sgt. Elias who is the model of the good soldier. The rest of the cast gives fine support while the script by Stone, partially from personal experience, is full of authentic dialogue and veracious detail. The clash between our civilized nature and our baser instincts is well presented.
It is impossible to fairly compare this to other excellent Vietnam War movies such as The Deer Hunter (1978), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Apocalypse Now (1979), et al., because they are all so different. I do believe that Platoon was more of a throwback to World War II movies in the sense that it focused on the dynamics of the soldiers immersed in actual battles with the enemy. Yet on the other hand it falls completely within the Vietnam War genre by looking beyond the battles to address the larger question of why, and the war's consequences. In World War II movies, the why was never in doubt, and the consequences were not an issue.
The theme of this movie has been expressed as the loss of innocence, and that is a fair assessment; but I think it wasn't so much the soldiers themselves who lost their innocence, although many did, but a nation that lost its. We were a different country before Vietnam. We have never been the same since, and we will never be the same again.
on February 13, 2003
"I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy. We fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us."
Thus the summation of Private Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) at the end of this film, a film about war, hate, self-realization, and survival. PLATOON tells a powerful story that moves beyond the horror and gore of the Vietnam War, a story that ultimately depicts the demise and disintegration of a dysfunctional combat unit. We see young Chris change before our very eyes, from a green, idealistic "grunt" to an embittered, disillusioned soldier. Chris' platoon is dominated--and subsequently divided--by two strong, yet very different men: Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe). Barnes is cold, calculating, brutal, intolerant; Elias is compassionate, humanistic. The battle of wills between these two men is just as challenging as the Viet Cong out in the bush, and just as deadly. The film's climatic ending is powerful, spellbinding.
I dismiss naysayers of PLATOON as a soapbox for writer/director Oliver Stone's political agenda just as much as I dismiss Mr. Stone's politics. PLATOON hits you between the eyes with its depictions of warfare and human conflict, again and again. There's nothing to feel good about by watching this movie, just as there is nothing to feel good about by fighting a war. It is a dark, negative film--a negative film that happens to be compelling, thought-provoking, and very riveting.
on June 22, 2002
I don't understand how this film has received so much critical acclaim, making the AFI's 100 Years 100 Movies list. It struck me as a pretty average movie, with little in the way of thought or plot or character. The idea of telling his story partially through letters to his grandmother is about as corny as you could possibly get. To me, the film seemed to have a number of ideas floating about--loss of innocence, loyalty, betrayal, friendship--but never settled on one for a single moment. Instead, it chose to show a bunch of people we don't know or care about in the jungle shooting guns and shouting profanity. The only scenes that really did anything interesting or unconventional were those two or three that used "Adagio for Strings" for the music. Those couple of scenes taken alone could be considered great--the music and the visuals compliment each other perfectly--but the rest of the movie has little to see. In the end credits it said that the film was dedicated to Vietnam veterans. I think they would be ashamed of it.
on April 19, 2002
Platoon is haunting in it's depiction of men hardened by the brutality of combat. Tom Berenger as Sgt. Barnes is unforgettable in his portrayal of a brutal man ultimately adapted to an environment that requires brutality. His character is the one that is most memorable but Willem Dafoe and Charlie Sheen are excellent in their respective roles as well as are many other supporting actors. The tension builds relentlessly as Barnes and Elias are on a collision course from the start and the "real" enemy begins to close in. Along the way there are many gripping sequences depicting both combat and the interval between engagements.
The portrayal of a MY LAI type incident in a Vietnamese village is chilling because it is so easy to see how such a thing can occur when conditions such as these men find themselves in exist.
Charlie Sheen does a great job moving from the "new meat" rookie soldier to the hardnosed veteran he becomes by the end of the film. His progression into a kind of hellish existence does much to explain the behavior of the other Vets earlier in the film.
There are many memorable lines delivered in 60's grunt-speak with conviction by numerous other characters. The dialogue is based on Michael Herr's fine book Dispatches.It is well written and realistic. You can get lost in this film and forget these guys are acting.
on March 11, 2002
At the time it was released, PLATOON was said to be so realistic that many Vietnam vets who viewed it had psychotic flashbacks. My best friend, Randy, served two tours of duty in Vietnam in the late 1960s, and because of these reports he was hesitant to see the film. Ultimately he attended a screening in the company of some two dozen other vets who sat together to provide each other with support. When the film was over they looked at each other. "Great film," they said. "But it wasn't like that. Not really." Then they all went out for coffee and argued over some of the movie's technical details. Randy says he has never met any vet who had a flashback episode from viewing PLATOON, and he regards the story as so much Hollywood hype. Whether the stories of flashbacks are true or not, one thing is clear: PLATOON does not capture the Vietnam experience for all vets, and it seems unlikely that any one film ever could.
Once we get past the film's reputation and actually look at it, what we have is an extremely well-done film that posits itself as "typical Vietnam experience" and then offers us an not-very-subtle morality tale. Although the film focuses on newly arrived soldier Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), the storyline focuses on the battle of wills between an ultra-hawk faction led by Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) who don't care who they kill and an ultra-dove faction led by Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe) who want to maintain some sort of sense of humanity and self-respect. The factions soon errupt into an internal war, with Berenger increasingly portrayed as a demon from the pit and Dafoe seen as a Christ-like figure, both symbolically fighting for the soul of young and impressionable Sheen.
In terms of combat scenes and violence, PLATOON is less horrific than you might expect. There are shockers, of course, but the film achieves its effect less from graphic violence than from suspense, and here it is extremely successful. Interestingly, the film also contains a covertly homo-erotic edge quite unlike that of any war film I've ever seen. When the characters talk about women, they refer to them as objects and the few women who appear in the film are targets of rape and murder, so the film equates heterosexuality with violence; on the other hand, it is impossible to escape the connotation of the scene in which Sheen is introduced to (i.e. seduced by) drugs in Dafoe's lair, which comes complete with party music, twinkle lights, and such lines as "put your mouth on this."
Although the black-and-white nature of the story is simplistic almost to the point of annoyance, a truly fine cast carries the film off extremely well. Sheen is actually the weak link here: although appropriately All-American-Good-Boy he is not greatly memorable. Dafoe, however, is astonishingly good, and although very one note Berenger is a powerful metaphor for evil. The supporting cast includes exceptional performances from the likes of Forest Whitaker, Kevin Dillon (particularly effective as the loathesome "Bunny"), and even a very young Johnny Depp. But Oliver Stone's direction and script has a "crusader" mentality that undercuts any complexity the film would have, and PLATOON ultimately emerges as determinedly anti-war to the point of propaganda; consequently it never digs as deep as you feel it should. But what the film does do, it does extremely well. Recommended, but keep your critical faculties fully engaged throughout.
on March 4, 2002
No, "Platoon" does not have a bunch of soldiers storming a beach and being graphically cut down for twenty minutes, a la "Saving Private Ryan." However, what it lacks in gore and pyrotechnics it more than makes up for in little aspects of filmmaking like psychological depth, believable characters, and realistic portrayals of the impact of war on its participants. "Platoon" follows the unit of young enlisted man Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen, in a so-so performance). The platoon's lieutenant is inexperienced and in way over his head, leaving the unit in the hands of its sergeants, the friendly and easy-going Elias (Willem Dafoe) and the stern, battle-scarred (both literally and figuratively) Barnes (Tom Berenger).
The men in the platoon are divided for the most part between Elias and Barnes, with the more relaxed pot-smoking types (including many of the black soldiers) associating with Elias and the more stern and grizzled men gravitating toward Barnes. Taylor begins finding himself falling in with Elias and his friendly and easygoing crowd, but seems to also betray some of Barnes's influence in his anger towards the Vietnamese, as is evident during a particularly harrowing scene when the soldiers shake down a village's inhabitants. Much of the film centers on Taylors efforts to reconcile the disparate influences of the humanistic Elias and the Machiavellian Barnes. Barnes, as Elias tells Taylor, "believes in what he's doing," namely going to any lengths to win the war. Many soldiers are willing to go along with Barnes's philosophy, and let the effects of the war spill over into gratuitous violence against civilians. The conflict between keeping and losing one's humanity in a war situation therefore becomes a central theme of the movie.
The characters in the movie are all strikingly real, with an impressive avoidance of stereotypes and stick figures; even the brutality of Barnes is put into context as part of his efforts to help win the war. Taylor's conflict between the opposing sides of his nature are reflected in his letters to his grandmother, which, while somewhat overwritten, do provide a great deal of insight into the soldier's mental struggles. The supporting soldiers, as well, are presented in a very realistic light; none are shown as being pure good or evil. The acting is solid for the most part, with Berenger's frightfully believable performance as Barnes a definite plus. All in all, perhaps the best window into the effects of war I've seen.