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1987 - R - 117 Mins.
Director: Oliver Stone
Written By: Oliver Stone
Starring: Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Johnny Depp, Kevin Dillion, Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley
Review by: John Ulmer

Platoon: Enlarged Poster
"Everybody's gotta die some day, Red."
Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger), "Platoon."

I do not believe that there has been a more effective Vietnam War film than "Platoon." Of course, one could argue that Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 masterpiece "Apocalypse Now" is the definitive Vietnam picture, but that person would be quite wrong, as the latter film is not a Vietnam War film but rather a film taking place in the Vietnam War -- it's based on the novel by Joseph Conrad, "The Heart of Darkness," which I have indeed read and I believe was written during the late 1800s. Before the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was used as a setting in the film simply because it was current with the times. The Vietnam War was the nation's primary focus during the 70s. Nowadays the novel would most likely not even take place during a war, but rather be a story of an African trader journeying up the Congo to find a secluded man named Kurtz, which is essentially what the book was about in the first place.

No, "Platoon" is all about the Vietnam War and the side effects. We get to see the men before and after, as they gear up and prepare themselves for the dreaded hike through the jungles of Vietnam and into the heart of battle, and when they are finally through with the war and ready to go home.

The film's point of view comes from a young American soldier named Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), a rich kid who has joined the war in an effort to appreciate multi-ethnic races and give something back instead of sitting around watching from the outside like all the other rich folk.

His platoon has two Sergeants, Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Elias (Willem Dafoe), the former of whom is a hard-nosed macho man ready to tear apart anything in his path and the latter of whom is an experienced soldier who came into the war with a sense of adventure and has now come to appreciate the fine things in life, and, for that matter, life itself. Chris forms a close friendship with Elias, put to a tragic end after Barnes murders Elias in cold blood, an attempt to keep the hounds off of his back after a savage attack on an innocent little farming town in Vietnam, of which Elias is able to testify to.

Chris knows Barnes shot Elias, and he tries to form an alliance with a band of other soldiers to help him take out Barnes before more people end up dead. During a savage final attack for the platoon in Vietnam, Barnes tries to murder Chris - but events don't always turn out the way you have them planned.

I don't know a whole lot about the Vietnam War. The history of it all has been contorted over the years by Hollywood and sympathizers. It's been made out to be the most brutal and disturbing war of all time, and I believe this might be true. Why? Because back in the early 40s, at the rise of World War II, the nation was not as angry as it was in the 70s. The 60s had created a decade of love and peace, and the 70s were the aftereffect of it all. People were angry. They took their vengeance out in many ways. Vietnam was one of them. I think it disturbed many people because of the ferocity of it all.

The ferocity shines through in a truly disturbing scene, when Chris' platoon visits a local Vietnamese village and Bunny (Kevin Dillon) mercilessly attacks a disfigured man and his mother, some other soldiers attempt to rape a young girl (Chris stops them), Barnes shoots a woman, and they burn down the village.

Oliver Stone is a great director whose films have been criticized for historical pervasion over the years. He directed "JFK" (1991), which caused upset among the people who knew his facts were all incorrect. He then directed the Quentin Tarantino-scripted "Natural Born Killers," which caused only more outrage. Many of his films have caused outrage, come to think of it. But I don't think that anyone can deny the power of "Platoon."

The film's Military advisor was Capt. Dale Dye, who has worked with Stone on numerous films and provides a commentary track on the newly-released Special Edition DVD. It's interesting to listen to -- he provides some insight into what went on during production, such as how the cast was shipped out to a boot camp to train for the movie.

The film has an all-star supporting cast, including Forest Whitaker, Francesco Quin, John C. McGinley, Kevin Dillon, Reggie Miller and Jack Sparrow himself, Johnny Depp. They all help make the film what it is. But it truly comes down to the triangle of Barnes, Elias and Taylor. Amidst the war they fight amongst themselves. The war is in them. And that, I suppose, is the message, after all.
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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