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Apocalypse Now Movie Review

film coppola ford francis

1979 – Francis Ford Coppola –

Apocalypse Now is too much of a mythic and surreal journey into the heart of darkness of all war to be the definitive film on the war in Vietnam. However, it does tell a very powerful story. The plot centers on Capt. Willard (Martin Sheen), who has been hand-picked by the upper brass (G.D. Spradlin) to assassinate Col. Walter Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a commander gone mad and the leader of a group of soldiers and natives in Cambodia. Ordered to “terminate” Col. Kurtz's command with “extreme prejudice,” he heads upriver to Cambodia to do just that. Along the way he meets an extraordinary collection of people and witnesses an equally extraordinary series of events.

He is piloted along by Chief Phillips (Albert Hall), an experienced skipper of a small patrol boat manned by Clean, Chef, and Lance (Laurence Fishburne, Frederic Forrest, and Sam Bottoms). One of the most colorful characters he meets is Col. “Wild Bill” Kilgore (Robert Duvall), commander of the 1st Air Cavalry and surfing enthusiast. The main problem with his hobby is that the best beaches belong to “Charlie.” Kilgore, however, is undeterred, sweeping in, taking a beach, sending out his men to surf while the carnage is mopped up.

Apocalypse Now is marvelously and memorably filmed: the aerial shots of Willard travelling to meet the boat, the beautiful sunsets, the impressive pyrotechnics on the beach, the action scene of Kilgore's choppers taking the village with missiles flying and Wagner thundering on the soundtrack. Moreover, the scene of the battle when the bridge is shot up shows the incredible power of the ordinance. The lighting during the night scenes is also of note, especially when the boat lands at the bridge. In this scene the Americans are fighting the Viet Cong for the bridge while Lance is tripping on acid. The combination of almost strobe-like light and the music of the era produces a very surreal experience.

The film loses much of its realism at this point and becomes more of an illusion, sometimes a dream, sometimes a nightmare. The nightmare exists mostly in the film's inclination to depict very graphic violence. The final sequence with Kurtz is mysterious, dark, and moody with human heads littering the ground and Willard confronting a type of more primitive evil. The hallucinogenic quality of the film gives it a strong sense of doom. Coppola's own comment about the film at the Cannes Film Festival probably identifies most clearly the reason many hail it as a masterpiece and others are more guarded in their praise: “It's more of an experience than a movie. At the beginning there's a story. Along the river the story becomes less important and the experience more important.”

Cast: Marlon Brando (Col. Walter E. Kurtz), Robert Duvall (Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore), Martin Sheen (Capt. Benjamin Willard), Frederic Forrest (Chef), Albert Hall (Chief Phillips), Sam Bottoms (Lance Johnson), Laurence Fishburne (Mr. Clean), Dennis Hopper (Freelance Photographer), G.D. Spradlin (General), Harrison Ford (Col. Lucas), Jerry Zeismer (Civilian) Screenwriter: Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro Composer: Carmine Coppola Producer: Francis Ford Coppola for Zoetrope MPAA Rating: R Running Time: 155 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards, 1979: Cinematography, Sound; Nominations: Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction/Set Direction, Director (Francis Ford Coppola), Film Editing, Picture, Supporting Actor (Robert Duvall); British Academy Awards, 1979: Director (Francis Ford Coppola), Supporting Actor (Robert Duvall); Cannes Film Festival, 1979: Film; Golden Globe Awards, 1980: Director (Francis Ford Coppola), Supporting Actor (Robert Duvall), Score; National Board of Review Awards, 1979: 10 Best films of the Year; National Society of Film Critics Awards, 1979: Supporting Actor (Frederic Forrest) Budget: $31.5M Box Office: $37.9M.

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