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"You can give your heart to Jesus, but your ass belongs to the Corps. Do you ladies understand...?"
Warner / 117 Minutes / 1987 / Rated R / Street Date: August 7, 2012
When Oliver Stone's Platoon debuted in 1986, it began a wave of Vietnam films devoted to "remembering" that particular war, some with honor, some with regret. But of the myriad of films that took that epic battle as their subject, two stood out above the rest: Stone's self-proclaimed attempt to show the war "as it really happened," and Stanley Kubrick's surrealistic vision of the nightmare that was Vietnam, Full Metal Jacket.
The film opens with a bang. As the credits roll, new recruits are being shaved in preparation for basic while "Goodbye My Love and Hello Vietnam" plays in the background. As the music ends, a pile of hair is quickly replaced by R. Lee Ermey as the drill instructor, delivering one of the funniest monologues in recent memory. He spills bile and abuse on each of the recruits, reminding them of their lowly station as "grunts," for almost fifteen minutes. Ermey really shines here, doing so well that he would go on to play a drill instructor in at least three other films.
As the training continues, we soon latch on to Private Joker, played with a cynical innocence by Matthew Modine. He quickly becomes our guide throughout the film, occasionally addressing the viewer through editorial voice-overs which change to reflect the changes his character undergoes with each new experience.
The second part of the film, beginning roughly forty minutes into the movie, details many of the day to day activities of soldiers in Vietnam. Joker has become a "killing machine," and he continues to chronicle the life of a soldier once he is sent overseas. This middle section is the weakest part of the film, tending to meander from one experience to the next with the viewer's only real tie being Joker. The third section, consisting of the last 40 minutes, focuses on Joker and his squad as they attempt to take out a sniper holed up in a ravaged and deserted city.
Where Stone went looking for reality, Kubrick goes for surrealism. Kubrick and cinematographer Douglas Milsome have given each and every scene a distinct look through a variety of angles, colors and lighting. From the cool blues of some of the more disturbing basic training scenes to the bright reds of the confrontation with the sniper, the movie constantly infuses each and every situation with its own unspoken commentary on the proceedings. The final image of marching troops silhouetted against a burning village is, like the rest of the film, haunting and unforgettable.