RogerBW's Blog

Platoon (1986) 12 January 2022

1986 war, dir. Oliver Stone, Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger: IMDb / allmovie. Turns out war isn't as bad as you thought; it's worse.

Which maybe needed to be said more in 1986, when Vietnam was still the latest large-scale war that America had been involved in and people were still trying to talk it up as a victorious military betrayed by politicians (stabbed in the back, one might say), than it does now. I mean, then I didn't and now I do know far too many details about the massacre at Mỹ Lai – not that it was a secret in the 1980s, but I think it wasn't as much in general consciousness. Or maybe I'm just a weirdo.

But this was clearly a very personal film for Stone, originating with the unproduced screenplay Break which he wrote just after he got back from Vietnam in 1968. It's therefore interesting to me that it's so sharply bookended by Chris Taylor arriving and leaving the war zone: we don't know who he was before (other than a student who volunteered), and we don't know who he'll be afterwards. This is just the story of his war, and while he gets some personality of his own he's clearly also an everyman, more reacting to the situation than imposing his own will on it.

And the setting is perfect: one sort of Hell, very clearly, is patrolling through the jungle knowing that you could be ambushed at any moment… forever.

Where to me it falls down is in making the other two major characters archetypes too: Sergeant Elias who's at peace with himself and trying to be a good person, and Sergeant Barnes who's become the mad-dog killer that the war seems to demand. (Though even he is shown to have some virtues – it's Barnes who understands and resolves what's going on with the misdirected artillery barrage.) They're clearly meant to represent the good and bad paths you can take, and maybe it's a bit too dualistic to feel at the same time like a story of real people.

While the Vietnam cliché as seen in something like Aliens is of utterly incompetent officers, I think Lt Wolfe is shown with some sympathy here: sure, the situation is clearly impossible, but I don't get to tell the General that, and so you don't get to tell me either.

The firefights are confusing, but I wonder whether they're a bit too confusing: realistic, perhaps, but as viewers we do want to know that this guy was accidentally shot by his own side while that guy was shot by the enemy. Sheen's red bandanna is at times the only visible identifying feature.

But the scene that hit me most powerfully was the aftermath of the climactic battle. Here is normality come back (or as normal as it gets), but Taylor just isn't ready yet to return from the mental places he's had to go.

Not a film to love, but definitely a film I'm very glad to have seen.

As usual if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime crystal cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2021 hugo 2022 hugo 2023 hugo 2024 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1