Platoon (1986)

platoon_posters_86It’s a rather interesting parallel that Charlie Sheen is playing much the same role his father did in Apocalypse Now. At least in the sense that they become our entry point into the mire of war, specifically in Vietnam. But where Apocalypse seemed to belong more so to Brando or even Duvall, Platoon is really Willem Dafoe’s film. At least he’s the one who makes it what it is. His final moment is emblematic of the entire narrative.

But it is also striking that the film opens with an excerpt from Ecclesiastes as follows, “Rejoice young man in your youth…” But the latter half of that same verse has major implications that will come into play later.

For now, these soldiers muddle their way through their tours of duty the best they can. Smoke, beer, and Smokey Robinson is the perfect way to combat the insanity and humidity right outside your tent.

Oliver Stone conjures up themes of politics and government conspiracies. The first word is uttered several times throughout Platoon but in the general sense. When you get a group of people together vying for positions and attention there’s bound to be politics. As for government conspiracy, Stone doesn’t quite scrape that barrel, although to be sure as a Vietnam veteran himself perhaps he has a lot to be disgruntled about.

Instead, he has a cast of characters who get to reflect all the angst and disillusionment for him and it’s a fairly impressive bunch. Aside from Sheen and Dafoe, John Bergener, Keith David, John McGinley, Forrest Whitaker, and even Johnny Depp make appearance wading their way through Vietnam.

It’s been far too long since I’ve seen Apocalypse Now to draw too many comparisons. However, although Platoon is a perturbing film it’s not the same type of expansive labyrinth that I recall from Coppola’s epic.  Charlie Sheen’s voiceovers attempt to add an introspective tinge to the entire narrative, but that is not where the strength of the film lies.

Platoon also has its share of pyrotechnics, in fact, it succumbs to them too often but that’s not the reason the film is affecting either. It’s the aftermath of those explosions. The carnage that is left in the wake of the barrages of RPGs. The bodies maimed and the images that haunt these young men.

And as audience members, it’s hard not to feel something. Repulsed. Angry. Frustrated. Confused. Perhaps that is the film working — giving even a zenith of the taste of what it was to be in the jungles of Vietnam back in 1967. This is one of those experiences I cannot take too often because it’s almost too much.

My initial hope was that Stone would not inject this film with his own brand or message and I will say that when I watch Platoon I am not left with the feeling that I am listening to Oliver Stone but instead I am watching something terribly volatile unfold. That’s certainly a testament to this film. In the end, Platoon is bolstered by its sheer intensity.

But back to Ecclesiastes, the earlier verse ends “and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things.” And it’s this final bit that is important in suggesting that young men are laid low due to their joy. But it’s hard to make that type of assertion. If anything, a film such as Platoon is perplexing because the answers are unclear and the reasons the world works the ways it does are not known to us.

Young men will continue to walk through life naively and he will struggle through life questioning the presence of God as much as this seemingly apathetic indifference towards the suffering in the world. Whether Stone was grappling with those same questions is up for contention but the beauty of film is that it very rarely works on a singular level. It can mean many things to many people. So it is with Platoon.

4/5 Stars

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