As should be quite evident by the amount I post about television and movies, my interest in film has increased exponentially over the past decade. For a while I would see movies every once in a while. I would see comedy films and the occasional action flick but my movie experiences did not go much past those genres. As time passed and I began expanding the films I saw, I delved into more and more genres including drama, foreign, kung-fu and almost anything that I could get my hands on. The one genre that it took me the longest to enjoy watching, and the genre is still hit and miss with me, was the war genre. The fact that I was very impressed buy the 1986 Oscar Best Picture winner Platoon suggests one of two things. The first, and least likely, is that I am really starting to like war movies. More likely is that Platoon is just an incredible film.
Reviewing this film is going to be very difficult because there are countless brilliant moments and so many great characters I could go on talking for pages and pages. The film, set in the Vietnam War, didn’t really focus on the overall events of the war itself but on the actions of a platoon in the war. Every shot in the film takes place during the war, no shots of any character’s life before or after. The film begins with the arrival of the main character Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), a young man who dropped out of college to go to war. Dropped into the middle of a platoon that has been at war for a while, it is made obvious very early on that he is the new kid on the block. It takes Taylor a long time to fit in but eventually he is accepted by a group of soldiers and finds a mentor in Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe). The film follows Taylor as he tries to survive the war and find a safe place within his platoon, all while dealing with the horrors of war and what it can do to enemy and ally alike.
A number of different battles take place during the film and not all of them are physical. There are a number of different battles that take place with weapons as the platoon traverses the jungle terrain and their lives are put in danger multiple different times. What seems to be more scary than the guns and the weapons are the battles that take place between the members of the platoon and in the minds of the platoon members themselves. War has the ability to do some terrible things to an individual. There were two opposing ideas in the film that were perfectly illustrated by the films two sergeants, Sergeant Elias and Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger). Before their quarrel is allowed to escalate to an unreasonable conclusion, the two showed two different ways to approach the war. Barnes is a soldier through and through, in Vietnam to win and there to follow every order exactly. His goal is to win the war by any means necessary and not to let anything get in the way of victory. Elias on the other hand seems to be there to help. He has gone to war not just to win but to help the area and make it a safe place for those living there. During his free time he tries to make the best of the situation and get to know his soldiers. The literal battle that occurred between Barnes and Elias demonstrated the conflicted feelings that occur within soldiers and within people that look at the war.
One specific scene in this film that I will never forget is a scene that I have come to think of as the village scene. The platoon is tasked to clear a village of hostile enemies but much more happens. I used the word horrors before and the inspiration for that word was this scene. The scene was full of shocking material but somehow director Oliver Stone managed to continued to develop his characters even while focusing on horror. Another scene in the film that I’ll never forget and that most people know is the famous scene with a soldier falling in battle, with his arms raised up to the sky. I’m not going to tell you which soldier it was, in case you don’t know, but the scene was heart-breaking even with the infamy surrounding it.
Winning the 1987 Oscar for Best Picture, Platoon went up against Hannah and Her Sisters, Children of a Lesser God, a Room with a View and the Mission. Both Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe earned Supporting Actor nominations and Oliver Stone brought home the win for Best Director. I was surprised by how well done this film really was. As far as being a well done film, looking at shots and acting, I give this a 4 out of 5 and as far as me liking the film, though it was devastating, I also give it a 4 out of 5 giving Platoon and overall 8 out of 10.