Man, when I don’t connect with a film, these get really hard to crank out…
Platoon is an anti-war flick and the first of its kind from a Vietnam War vet, Oliver Stone. The film follows fictional U.S. Army volunteer Chris Taylor (played by Charlie Sheen) and his year-long, hellish experience in Vietnam, ending with the New Year’s Day Battle of 1968. Despite Taylor’s initial greenness and struggle to fit in, he eventually finds a place for himself in his platoon. Sergeant Barns (Tom Berenger) and Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe) serve as the two influences/narrative forces tugging on the men and on the story—with Barns serving as a brutal “ends justify the means” hard ass and Elias serving as a “live up to our ideals” moral balance. Guess which one is the first to go in an anti-war film?
First thing’s first, comparing this film with “Apocalypse Now” is unavoidable. They are both Vietnam War films staring a Sheen. Where ‘Apocalypse’ uses the war as an acid-trip backdrop for adapting “Heart of Darkness”, this film is a straight depiction of the destructiveness of war, which each character getting a soul-crushing mini-arch over the film. It was far more ground in reality, but less cinematic or exciting. This was clearly by intent (I read one review of how hard it is to make an anti-war flick without glorifying war in some way and this film pretty much succeeds) but I easily liked “Apocalypse Now” much more.
I suppose it’s because I personally didn’t click with this film; probably for really lame reasons. While I liked the duality of the Barns/Elias influence, I generally found the film to be dull. Things meant to make war seem unromantic succeeded, creating an unexciting watch. The low budget, un-epic-ness of the film shone through and the story, involving broken characters in an intentionally depressing slog, was hard for me to latch onto. I'm probably sounding unintelligent or not empathetic, but from my contemporary perch, the “war is hell” narrative played like something of a broken record I’ve seen before. I don’t disagree, but I don’t feel like I need to be told.
That’s not to say the film wasn’t good, or necessary, or important for a certain audience. It strikes me as another in a long line of films that our country needed to sort its shit out after the Vietnam War. A depressing and messy war begot depressing and messy art…and that’s ok. I'm just not in that audience, I suppose.