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Platoon Movie Review

stone chris oliver film

1986 – Oliver Stone –

Directed by Vietnam veteran Oliver Stone, Platoon uses the intensity of the Vietnam War to present a modern morality play about the battle for the soul of a young enlistee, Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen, in the performance of his career). As Chris and his platoon arrive near the Cambodian border in 1967, they leave the womb-like mouth of the transport plane and are welcomed by the sight of a litter of body bags ready to be flown out. The starkness of the imagery characterizes the entire film. Life and death, innocence and experience, good and evil are reflected in the often graphic realism of the film's style, and one of the defining traits of the film (praised by some, faulted by some) is the way the many horrors of war never appear without a sense of their larger spiritual dimensions.

We hear Chris' voice-over narration as he composes letters home to his grandmother—just about the only organizing trait in the film. Like writer-director Oliver Stone, Chris has dropped out of college after two years to enlist; he now finds his background at odds with his platoon-mates, most of whom were drafted. Stone conveys the disorientation of battle with many hand-held, kinetic camera shots. The numerous closeups also deny the audience a chance to accustom themselves during jungle scenes, creating a sense of dislocation.

The key scene in the first half of the film occurs when the platoon enters a farming village suspected of using its system of underground tunnels to hide enemy soldiers. After finding one of their own tied and killed, Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger) begins threatening the villagers. He kills one woman and holds a pistol to the head of a little girl when Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe) stops him and the two begin to fight. Barnes is portrayed as the evil, animalistic one for whom survival has become the only good, even at the expense of innocent civilians; Elias is the humane soldier who respects the sanctity of life and resists the war's efforts to brutalize him. The platoon eventually splits in support of their two sergeants. Chris initially reveres Barnes, as his profane threats upon first entering the Vietnam village show, but he soon sides with Elias and stops his fellow soldiers from raping a village woman. The remainder of the film pits Barnes against Elias with Chris becoming less and less an innocent observer.

The real power of the village scene and the battle sequences, as writer Danny Peary has observed, lies in the way they suggest that such My Lai brutality was the norm rather than the exception in Vietnam. It is a chilling thought. This intensity renders the usual inner resources of the soldiers in war films—bravery, patriotism, a sense of discipline or order—nearly meaningless in what becomes a desperate fight to survive. The barbarity of that struggle creates the ruthlessness of the Barneses of the war, but the desire not to be engulfed by such barbarity also creates the Eliases of the war. Between them is Chris, waiting to see what the war will make of him.

Cast: Tom Berenger (Sgt. Barnes), Willem Dafoe (Sgt. Elias), Charlie Sheen (Chris Taylor), Keith David (King), Forrest Whitaker (Big Harold), Francesco Quinn (Rhah), Kevin Dillon (Bunny), John C. McGinley (Sgt. O'Neill), Reggie Johnson (Junior), Mark Moses (Lt. Wolfe), Corey Glover (Francis), Johnny Depp (Lerner), Chris Pedersen (Crawford), Bob Orwig (Gardner), Corkey Ford (Manny), David Neidorf (Tex), Dale Dye (Harris) Screenwriter: Oliver Stone Cinematographer: Robert Richardson Composer: Georges Delerue Producer: Arnold Kopelson for Orion Pictures MPAA Rating: R Running Time: 120 minutes Format: VHS, LV, DVD Awards: Academy Awards, 1986: Director (Oliver Stone), Editor, Picture, Sound; Nominations: Cinematography, Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe); British Academy Awards, 1987: Director (Oliver Stone); Directors Guild of America Awards, 1986: Director (Oliver Stone); Golden Globe Awards, 1987: Director (Oliver Stone), Film/Drama, Supporting Actor (Tom Berenger); Independent Spirit Awards, 1987: Cinematography, Director (Oliver Stone), Film, Screenplay; National Board of Review Awards, 1986: 10 Best Films of the Year Budget: $6M.

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