Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Reel 25

This month marks the 25th anniversary of the release of one of the greatest war-films ever made, Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning PLATOON.

Stone created PLATOON based upon his own experiences in the Vietnam War, and intended to counter the vision of war that was portrayed in THE GREEN BERETS (1968). Although Francis Ford Coppola’s APOCOLYPSE NOW (1979) was a harder look at the war, BERETS was widely accepted as the definitive Vietnam film; mostly due to John Wayne’s star power. BERETS however was slammed by the critics for glorifying the war and for being dull and absurd. Still, The Duke’s star made it a financial success, and was widely considered to be The ‘Nam film. Stone set out to change that.

Again, by drawing from his own wartime experiences, Stone was able to strip the Hollywood from Vietnam; while making it real, gritty, and most importantly, human at the same time. The realities of guerilla warfare and the themes of moral choices made PLATOON strike a chord with veterans and non-veterans alike. Audiences were disturbed, yet accepting of the notion of America’s soldiers turning on each other in the depths of hellish war.

Stone put together an ensemble cast in the form of Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem DaFoe, Johnny Depp (!), Forest Whitaker, Francesco Quinn (RIP), John C. McGinley, Kevin Dillon, Corey Glover and Keith David. He put his actors through real-life boot camp to prepare them for their roles; adding heavy realism to the strong performances.

Powered by those strong performances and Stone’s excellent writing, PLATOON was a great success; it was nominated for eight Oscars (including two for acting), and won four (including Best Picture). The American Film Institute ranks it #83 in it’s AFI’S 100 YEARS…100 MOVIES.

This Blogger never had the opportunity to see PLATOON on the big screen (where’s that 4K big screen re-release, Oliver?), and only caught up with it years later on home video; the initial viewings cemented PLATOON in this mind as THE definitive ‘Nam movie. A recent viewing shows that the film has held up and aged very, very well; great characters and powerful themes tend to do that. And as a former U.S. Army Reservist, this Blogger consistently witnessed (one weekend a month) the characters Stone had created in real life; be assured that in every platoon, there is a Sgt. Barnes, an Elias, and a Chris Taylor.

The tag-line of PLATOON was, “The first casualty of war is innocence”, which was an adaptation of Senator Hiram Johnson’s 1917 quote, “The first casualty of war is truth”; both themes are heavy in the film, and perhaps no other war movie since 1986 has carried those messages better.

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