Platoon (1986) – Oliver Stone

Walking away with Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Sound, Platoon is the next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film following my screening of Apocalypse Now.

The film serves as a commentary on the horrors of war, even as two sergeants seem to be fighting for the soul of a young new grunt, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen).

Arriving as a volunteer, Chris Taylor is shocked at the horror and inhumanity of war. He is thrown into the conflict and soon finds the waters of innocence and morality muddied as he is drawn between two sergeants. Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) is a scarred, battle weary soldier who is dedicated, in his way, to his men, but has seen too much of war and has become a sadistic weapon against the enemy.

Elias (Willem Dafoe) has been in country for far too long, and his point of view is completely different to Barnes’ but both are dedicated to their soldiers, and their intentions of surviving.

Through the course of his one year tour of duty, Chris is broken, changed, and unrecognisable to the new recruit that arrived. The horrors of the front are comparable to the horrors that take place within the unit when they are on patrol – and they are equally terrifying.

Chris serves as our gateway to the war, we see it through his slowly jading eyes, but his journey is one that we can only observe and fear as he comes into conflict both physical and moral.

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Stone is, himself, a Vietnam vet, and a number of the incidents portrayed in the film are based on real life occurrences. It’s jarring, frightening, and a terrifying portrayal of the reality of war.

Stone rounds out his cast with a some solid actors like Forest Whitaker, Kevin Dillon, Keith David, John C. McGinley, Tony Todd, and Johnny Depp, and the film is a visceral experience that haunts.

The film is tightly edited and produced, and you know you are in for a horrifying experience when the village sequence happens. Stone turns his camera’s unflinching gaze on all the horrific things we do to one another as a species, and forces you to watch our lack of humanity, and the brutality of war.

The vibrancy of the jungle, and the immediacy of the warfare that takes place there wraps around you, and holds you from the film’s opening to its brutal climax.

Chris was doomed the moment he volunteered, and even if he survives his tour of duty, he’ll no longer be innocent and will be scarred for the rest of his life.

A brutal and stunning film, a story to learn from to prevent such things from happening again.

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