Platoon (1986)

Director:  Oliver Stone
Cast:  Charlie SheenTom Berenger, Willem Dafoe
Plot:  A young recruit in Vietnam faces a moral crisis when confronted with the horrors of war and the duality of man.

Genre:  Drama / War

Awards:  Won 4 Oscars - Best Picture, Director, Film Editing, Sound.  Nom. for 4 Oscars - Best Supporting Actors x2, Original Screenplay, Cinematography. Won Silver Bear (Berlin).
Runtime:  120min
Rating:  NC16 for war violence, and profanity.

“I love this place at night, the stars. There's no right or wrong in them. They're just there.

When you think of the Vietnam War movie, what comes to your mind? What comes first to your mind is often an answer that has been decided by popular culture - Platoon, which won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1986, and directed by a decorated veteran (and survivor) of that war.

Or it could be a personal favourite - in my case, it would be Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979). The next question that will inevitably be asked: Which is the best Vietnam War movie ever made? Well, the jury is still out. But for some strange reason or so, the compass always seems to point to Oliver Stone's film.

Platoon is a focused film, with a strong emphasis on the experience of the dehumanizing effect of war on the foot soldier, in this instance, played by Charlie Sheen. Sheen's character is a newbie, who volunteers to serve because his father and grandfather did so in the past in bigger wars.

By centering on his character and his relationship with his comrades, most specifically William Dafoe's morally-driven character, Stone dramatises as realistically as possible the conflicts that play out every day in the battlefield - clueless U.S. Marines versus the committed Vietcong, morality versus barbarism, and the clash of personal ideologies.

Thematically, Platoon shifts from depicting the dehumanizing effects of war, somewhat a macro look at the nature of war, as evident in the infamous village attack sequence halfway into the film, to a micro look at the psychological battle Sheen's character has to fight on his own.

Even though Platoon is a narrative, Stone has shot his film in a mix of documentary-style realism and spectacular overhead shots. The camera always seems to be silently observing the soldiers and their interactions with the human and non-human environment. This is what makes Stone's film feels more authentic, as compared to Kubrick's more stylized and satirical Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Coppola's haunting surreal trip into the heart of darkness.

Platoon has somewhat aged a little, but it still retains the power to compel, though not as much on repeated viewings as compared to other Vietnam flicks. I will also argue against it being a masterpiece for this reason.

Verdict: Stone's Oscar-winning film retains its power and authenticity, but it is arguable that it still is the best Vietnam War movie ever made.

GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)

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