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Movie Review: Platoon

Written and directed by Oliver Stone
Orion, 1986

1986 was Oliver Stone’s year, with the very good Salvador coming out in February and his big splash, Platoon, in December.  Stone got nominated for both screenplays but lost to Woody Allen (Hannah and Her Sisters), but he did win Best Director.

In Platoon, the horrors of Vietnam are witnessed by Pvt. Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen, who I’m sure got plenty of comparisons to his dad Martin Sheen from Apocalypse Now).  There is a dividing line in this platoon, one run by hardass Sergeant Bob Barnes (nominee Tom Berenger) and another run by druggie veteran Sergeant Elias Grodin (nominee Willem Dafoe).  People have picked their sides, it’s only a matter of time before it comes to a head.

It’s the end of the first act, in which the platoon burns down a Vietnamese village, accompanied by Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, where the divisions become clear.  Some feel like it’s a tremendous waste, others feel it necessary.  Elias wants to report Barnes for gross misconduct, which in the second act plays out to a shocking conclusion.

It’s the third act that is the problem.  You’ll have a hard time remembering the events of the final thirty minutes of this film, because it’s some ho-hum battle with no remaining consequences.  The third act is all about wanting to get the hell out of Vietnam, most memorably played by Sgt. Red O’Neill (John C. McGinley), who thinks if he doesn’t get out of there fast, his number is up.

Platoon is a film much like Full Metal Jacket, it works on the whole, but it fires all of its good material before it ends.  Clearly, though, it’s a film that approaches greatness and it was easily the best picture of 1986, beating out Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, Merchant/Ivory’s A Room with a View, Roland Joffe’s The Mission, and Children of a Lesser God. 

Also notable is how many recognizable actors came out of this flick: McGinley, Tony Todd, Kevin Dillon, Forest Whitaker, Keith David, and most notably, Johnny Depp. 

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