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OBPC #59: Platoon, 1986

January 13, 2014

Rating:  2 stars (out of 4)

Platoon (1986): Written and directed by Oliver Stone.  Starring: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, and Mark Moses.  Rated R for violence and language.  Running time: 120 minutes.

platoonWriter-director Oliver Stone had his script long before he began production.  In fact, he had been ruminating on it since he was an infantryman in the Vietnam War.  Which is why I’m surprised he can’t translate that experience to film without hitting us over the head, over and over again.

Unlike other Vietnam films before it, Platoon focuses on ground combat.  We see the conflict from the perspective of Charlie Sheen’s neophyte soldier (pre-“Winning!).  Expecting a battalion of American heroes, Taylor instead finds a legion of disillusioned, shell-shocked, and desensitized drug addicts.  Leading the troops are the generous Sgt. Elias and the sinister Sgt. Barnes, Jesus Christ and Lucifer in this hellish landscape.

For a film that should benefit from Stone’s firsthand experience, it often strains for authenticity.  It shocks us with atrocities but constantly relies on reaction shots from the American soldiers, telegraphing the emotions for us.  And post-production seems to have sucked out any subtlety Stone could muster.  Sameul Barber’s Adagio for Strings, a powerful piece of music, stands in for sadness in nearly every scene while an incessant voiceover attempts to compensate for material left on the cutting room floor.

That said, Stone does manage some powerful moments.  The suspense in the jungle patrol scenes builds so beautifully, you might start to wonder why Stone didn’t focus his energies on a procedural and instead tried for a bludgeoning morality play.  And the film is cast well; Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe boast range and nuance which extends past their flimsily written characters.  Even Charlie Sheen makes us forget about his recent…err…entanglements.

Stone clearly knows this material, but he might have sought another writer to help him translate that experience.  I appreciate his courage to tell such a story, but I ‘m not sure why he felt the need to inject it with painfully redundant sentimentality.

Next film: The Last Emperor, 1987

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