Plot – A young soldier in Vietnam faces a moral crisis when confronted with the horrors of war and the duality of man – Platoon.
Director – Oliver Stone
Released – 1986
There have been many films that attempted to show true horrors of the Vietnam war in brutal detail, the greatest of all being Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket and the often overlooked but just as significant Platoon, not only because of the great care and attention Stone went to, to make this an authentic look at what soldiers went through during the conflict.
But also because of the no holds barred portrait of the many war crimes that were committed by the Americans while stationed there, including the murder of many Vietnamese civilians and wiping many villages off the map in vicious and illegal attacks by soldiers growing angry at fighting a war that more and more seemed a lost cause.
While this honest portrayal helps to make Platoon one of the best war movies of all times, surprisingly, what makes it a masterpiece comes from the philosophical questions raised through and the complex characters we are presented, as seen through the battle for Private Taylor’s (Sheen) heart and mind by opposing Sargents Barnes (Berenger) and Grodin (Dafoe), wonderfully depicting the duality of man, where nobody is entirely good or bad and some acts that seem monstrous by an outsider will be justified as necessary by minds corrupted by power and vengeance.
The mark of a good film is one that lasts for 2 hours but feels like 30 minutes and Platoon is one such movie, with the action sequences, growing tension and conflict keeping you glued to the screen for fear of missing something.
And for this, I have to give credit to not only Stone for his writing and direction but also Robert Richardson for his excellent cinematography. He not only filled Platoon with beautiful and memorable shots but found a way to show the many jungles based battle sequences clearly and explicitly. At no point are you confused by what’s happening and who’s located where? A very rare feat for a film with this many fast-paced and frantic scenes of conflict.
When it comes to the acting, this is the film that shows how underrated of an actor Dafoe really is. Very few actors could have delivered the range of emotions and the charisma needed for the role. With the same to be said for Berenger, it’s no surprise that both were nominated for an Academy Award.
But when it comes to the stand out performances, this has to go to Sheen, who may have seemed a strange choice at the time, but in hindsight was perfect, fully encompassing the transition that most young men went through during their tours, going from wide-eyed and idealistic young men to dehumanise, shellshocked and damaged men, torn between right and wrong, honour and duty.
In the end, Platoon is brutal, violent, and quite hard to sit through, but is nether-the-less Oliver Stone does a tremendous job of effectively portraying the horrors of the Vietnam War in an honest and haunting manner. It’s a shame war-movies these days don’t take half the risks or contain anywhere near the heart that this film did.