Platoon (1986) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Many of the the great post-war American directors have weighed in with significant Vietnam movies. Coppola did "Apocalypse Now", Kubrick "Full Metal Jacket", Cimino "The Deer Hunter", and Oliver Stone contributed "Platoon". 

Platoon was widely acclaimed at the time, and made an excellent Oscar showing in 1986. It won Best Picture, Best Director and two other trophies. It was also a box office success, and a popular newsmagazine cover story. The viewers at IMDb consider it Oliver Stone's best film, and rate it in the top 150 films ever made. Stone also wrote the script, and it is his most autobiographical, being a fictionalization of his own experiences as a grunt in 'Nam. In parallel to the character, Stone, although a university student and the son of a stockbroker, eagerly enlisted and fought alongside the poor draftees. He knew that he had made a mistake from Day One.

Over the years, there have been some revisionist opinions formulated about this movie, and it is not as popular or as well-regarded as you might expect from a former Best Picture. 


On the positive side, most guys I know who were in Vietnam say that this film is the single best ever made in terms of recapturing what it was really like there on the front lines. The film doesn't try to give any concept of the big-picture war strategies. It gives the feeling that it's just a bunch of uneducated guys wandering around the jungle, trying to avoid being shot by a faceless omnipresent enemy. I don't know jack about Vietnam, but the guys who do say that this film got it right.

On the negative side, it includes some heavy-handed symbolism in the dialogue and situations. You see, poor Charlie Sheen (as the Oliver Stone character) is a soul being fought over by Satan and Jesus, in the form of two sergeants, Barnes and Elias,  played by Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe (Dafoe is pretty much the stock Jesus, isn't he?). Sheen even makes a concluding voice-over, in which he declares that those two men have continued to battle for his soul all of his life.

Berenger's character is a great soldier, fearless in battle and tough as nails, but he is the darkest side to which a man's soul could sink in Vietnam. Knowing (rightly) that even the women and children in the villages can represent a real threat, he shows no mercy in his investigations and interrogations of the locals, killing old ladies and holding a gun to the heads of children - whatever it takes. Dafoe's character is also a tough soldier, but approaches war without the vicious paranoia. His only real concern is to get himself and his platoon home alive, and he thinks that can be done without Berenger's draconian solutions. Sheen/Stone goes over briefly to the dark side. Stuck out in the jungle without adequate sleep, physically ill, consumed by fear in the nighttime firefights, Sheen is at first infected by Berenger's paranoia, and even goes so far as to make an old villager dance a jig to the hail of bullets from his automatic weapon. He gradually fights to retain his respect for the value of human life.

The real war in Platoon is not between the USA and Vietnam, but between the two factions inside the American platoon, the gung-ho Berenger boys versus the stoners who follow the path of Dafoe.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • Full-length director commentary

  • full-length commentary by the military advisor

  • one-hour documentary "Tour of the Inferno"

"I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves. The enemy was in us. The war is over for me now, but it will always be there, the rest of my days. As I'm sure Elias will be, fighting with Barnes for what Rhah called 'possession of my soul'. There are times since, I've felt like a child, born of those two fathers."

It's a great DVD, as we have come to expect from Oliver Stone. Once again, he co-operated with a documentary and contributed a full-length commentary which is consistently interesting. There is also an additional commentary track by the military advisor for the film.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: nearly four stars. Ebert 4/4, Maltin 3.5/4, Apollo 90.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 100% positive reviews

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.9, #141 of all time. Apollo users score it 92/100
  • With their dollars ... made for only $6 million, it grossed $69 million domestically. Between the profits and the awards, it secured Oliver Stone's place in the industry.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-.

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