Some movies are difficult to watch from beginning to end. For me, Platoon, is one of these movies. Oliver Stone, wrote and directed this film, released in 1986, and it was the first of his Vietnam War trilogy. In 1989, he released Born on the Fourth of July and Heaven & Earth in 1993. Out of the three movies, Platoon is my favorite. The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing. Furthermore, British television Channel 4 ranks it as the 6th best war film and it is on the 2007 AFI list for top 100 movies. Oliver Stone used some of his experiences as a U.S. infantryman in Vietnam. I don’t think a movie this powerful could have been written by someone who hadn’t been there in real life.
When Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) arrives in Vietnam in 1967 it doesn’t take him long to realize that he made a mistake. Chris dropped out of college to volunteer to fight. He and several more recruits join up with Bravo Company, who are fighting near the Cambodian border. Not only is the heat and living conditions horrendous, but he is smack dab in the middle of a private war between two of the officers on the American side. Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe) takes the young recruit under his wing. Staff Sergeant Bob Barnes (Tom Berenger) is not so kind. In fact, he is cruel and manipulative. The company is divided into two camps, those who follow Elias and those who follow Barnes. Chris has to choose between these leaders. During a raid on a village, an illegal killing solidifies the division between Elias and Barnes. The naïve Chris finds himself struggling for survival out on the battlefield and within his own unit.
The music in the movie is spot on. As soon as Chris lands in Vietnam, the music sets the tone. Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” evokes so many emotions. It is tense and haunting. For me, this heightened my enjoyment of the film. In addition, Stone includes some classic tunes from the sixties. The other day I was reading Caroline’s blog All About War Movies and her review of the The Killing Fields. She writes that the score felt outdated for her and that ruined the film experience. I think the score in most films are overlooked. And yet they can help make or break a film.
Stone’s movie does not sugarcoat war. He does not have the traditional American hero who saves the day. If you are expecting a John Wayne type of movie you will be severely disappointed. This is a gritty tale of how war corrupts innocence. Even though this was not my first viewing of the film, many of the scenes still made me squirm in my seat. He shows you the violence, the horror, the crimes, the battles, and the shame of war. Many of the soldiers have to decide how far they are willing to go to survive. And how does one keep their sanity when surrounded by insanity? War is hell. Stone never loses sight of this, which means that the movie experience is uncomfortable, thought-provoking, and disturbing.