Apocalypse Now was one of the best first-2/3rds of a movie I've watched so far this year. This Vietnam War story follows Martin Sheen's Benjamin Willard, who must join a navy crew and secretly boat upriver into Cambodia in order to find and execute the rouge-American Colonel Kurtz (like a bizzaro-Saving Private Ryan). The film features a stellar cast of actors in their prime, including Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne, (a surprise-to-me cameo by Harrison Ford), and a fat Marlon Brando.

You know a film is influential when its sequences and phrases have grown larger than its story. "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" is one of the most recited and parodied movie quotes of all time and is wonderfully delivered by Duvall's Colonel Kilgore. (As an aside, both passionate and oblivious, Kilgore was probably my favorite character in the film). And of course, the helicopter approach scene is the greatest use of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" since the Bugs Bunny cartoons. The first two acts are a fascinating, increasingly personal and trippy look at war and its supporting characters.

Unfortunately, everything the film seemed to be building towards fell apart in the third act. The native tribe/rouge army conclusion may have been a natural derivation from the film's source material (the novella "Heart of Darkness"), but it steered a perfectly good film into a cooky place. To make matters worse, apparently Marlin Brando showed up on set so fat and sloppy, they had to rewrite the ending and shoot him in the dark! His babbling could have come off sounding like one the Joker's more lucid speeches; instead, it was as succinct as a shart. The whole thing felt like Coppola knew he couldn't stick the landing and thought he could distract us with the bullshit symbolism of pseudo-artsy fever-dream.

I'm learning to appreciate a film for the sum of its parts and not simply its narrative progression--so despite the lame-ass ending, I have to say I actually really liked this film. If you haven't seen it, I do recommend giving this one a watch; you might be surprised by how much you'll enjoy it.