Film: Platoon

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Film:

Platoon

Director: Oliver Stone
Honors:
Genres:
Distributor: MGM (Video & DVD)

Platoon put writer-turned-director Oliver Stone on the Hollywood map; it is still his most acclaimed and effective film, probably because it is based on Stone’s firsthand experience as an American soldier in Vietnam. Chris (Charlie Sheen) is an infantryman whose loyalty is tested by two superior officers: Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe), a former hippie humanist who really cares about his men (this was a few years before he played Jesus in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ), and Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), a moody, macho soldier who…

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Platoon put writer-turned-director Oliver Stone on the Hollywood map; it is still his most acclaimed and effective film, probably because it is based on Stone’s firsthand experience as an American soldier in Vietnam. Chris (Charlie Sheen) is an infantryman whose loyalty is tested by two superior officers: Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe), a former hippie humanist who really cares about his men (this was a few years before he played Jesus in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ), and Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger), a moody, macho soldier who may have gone over to the dark side. The personalities of the two sergeants correspond to their combat drugs of choice—pot for Elias and booze for Barnes. Stone has become known for his sledgehammer visual style, but in this film it seems perfectly appropriate. His violent and disorienting images have a terrifying immediacy, a you-are-there quality that gives you a sense of how things may have felt to an infantryman in the jungles of Vietnam. Platoon won Oscars for best picture and director. The digital video disc transfer was supervised by cinematographer Robert Richardson, and includes two commentary tracks (one by Stone and one by military technical advisor Dale Dye) and a 50-minute documentary about the making of Platoon called A Tour of the Inferno: Revisiting Platoon. —Jim Emerson

Winning a raft of awards, not least of which four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, Oliver Stone’s Platoon was a box-office smash heralding Hollywood’s second wave of Vietnam war films. Where predecessors The Deer Hunter (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979) were elaborate epics, Platoon simply showed the daily reality of the war from the point of view of ordinary soldiers. Stone’s own service in Vietnam gives his work a unique authenticity.

Charlie Sheen gives his best performance to date, enduring a series of increasingly large-scale and bloody battles which retrospectively make one wonder why Saving Private Ryan was hailed as so new. Against this gruelling verity the film falters over the symbolic conflict between good and evil sergeants played by Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger. Even though this was also based in real life, it strikes a too conventionally Hollywood-like note in a film which otherwise maintains much of the raw power of Stone’s other film from 1986, Salvador. Johnny Depp fans should look out for an early appearance by the star. Stone would return to Vietnam with the more sophisticated Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Heaven and Earth (1993). —Gary S Dalkin

Barnes and Noble

Whatever one thinks about Oliver Stone as a filmmaker, activist, or human being, there is no denying the brilliance of this, his finest film. A harrowing war tale based on Stone’s own experiences as an enlisted man during the Vietnam War, Platoon is more closely attuned than previous Vietnam pictures to the viewpoints of the poor and minority soldiers who fought in the Indochinese trenches. There’s no question that Stone rejects the domestic politics that drove the war, underscored by the increasing disillusionment of his surrogate character: Charlie Sheen as Pvt. Chris Taylor. But Platoon, which won Stone an Academy Award for Best Director, tells its simple story with such emotion and vigor that the larger political issues don’t really come into play. As a new recruit, Sheen finds himself caught up in the struggle for the platoon’s soul between Sgt. Elias Grodin (Willem Dafoe) and Staff Sgt. Bob Barnes (Tom Berenger). Elias, a savvy soldier with a stoner’s soul and a saintly aura, is clearly at a disadvantage against Barnes, a killing machine with a deeply scarred face and the advantage of rank. One of them will die in Nam, and with Samuel Barber’s heartrending Adagio for Strings swelling in the background, so will the shreds of Pvt. Taylor’s innocence. As his father did in Apocalypse Now, Sheen brings laconic intensity to the jungle, while Dafoe and Berenger provide the more explosive performances. Both earned Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor, and the film won the Best Picture award. Upon reflection nearly two decades later, there’s no question that Platoon richly deserves the accolades it earned in its day. It remains among the most deeply moving and visceral war films of all time. Greg Fagan

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