Now we come to Stanley’s answer to Hollywood’s favourite war – Vietnam!
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
The war movie has always been a popular choice for directors, but in the eighties, the war in Vietnam seemed to become a genre all its own…what with its green camo’d G.I. the use of 70s rock to convey atmosphere, and the destroyed beauty of Vietnam with its dense jungles…even today these movies look brilliantly iconic.
When Stanley Kubrick delivered his take on the war, he was already following in the wake of Oliver Stone’s seminal Platoon, and before that Francis Ford Coppola’s operatic Apocalypse Now. Yet again, Kubrick didn’t go the route of those past glories, and chose to tell the story very differently, focusing more on the G.I.’s and their personalities, their training, with the actual conflict seemingly on the back burner throughout.
We open with a tour-de-force performance from Lee R Ermey as the tough-as-nails drill instructor with a never ending vocabulary of (often comical) put-downs and insults, and his effect on one G.I. in particular (Vincent D’Onofrio) proves truly unnerving cinema. This startling opening 45 minutes grabs you by the throat so strongly that once we finally hit the killing fields of ‘Nam its almost a relief. Then we get into the heart of darkness as our young G.I.’s are faced with the hell of war, and the brilliantly named Joker (Mathew Modine) sucks us in with a friendly, likable anti-hero lead, that helps us through the tougher moments.
At times Full Metal Jacket feels like a documentary, the choice to make a military reporter (Modine) your eyes and ears on the conflict was bold but fresh compared to what we’ve been used to before; some marine trying to get home in one piece (see Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July etc), and throughout this is a beautiful film to look at, with Kubrick’s unflinching eye for detail and setting never missing a beat. Also the film feels a little lighter in tone compared to its brethren, and the claustrophobia of Platoon is thankfully missing. It also delivers where we want it to, in some excellent battle scenes, a superb final act involving a lone sniper pinning down a squad of G.I.’s, and perfect choices of music (Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black should have you coming away totally satisfied).
The DVD is referred to as the ‘deluxe edition’, but I fail to see what’s so deluxe about it. We get one (admittedly interesting) half hour documentary, a trailer and most valuable of all, a cast commentary, that is very informative. When compared to the other films in the box set though, the extra material here is severely lacking. Shame because the picture is sharp and vivid in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio (anamorphic) and the sound in 5.1 is suitably powerful.
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