Pros:strong first part, some terrific performances
Cons:setting didn't feel authentic
The Bottom Line: If we strip away he individual, do we really like what comes afterward?
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
Full Metal Jacket is almost two movies in one. The first half deals with Marines going through boot camp at Parris Island during the height of the Viet Nam War. The second half takes place after they have been deployed in Viet Nam. Director Stanley Kubrick is usually known for his films being edgy. While that may be the case to a certain extent with Full Metal Jacket, he also treats the subject matter quite seriously.
With the Viet Nam War raging in 1968, a group of draftees go through the Marine Corps boot camp on Parris Island. Real-life Drill Sergeant R. Lee Ermey portrays Hartman, a Drill Instructor with a sadistic streak. The draftees are all stuck here, like it or not and must adhere to the drills and punishment that Hartman dishes out.
Hartman singles out two of the draftees in particular. Pvt. Pyle (portrayed by Vincent DOnofrio) is what I would call a big galoot of a guy. Hes an easy target for Hartman as hes soft around the middle and struggles with the many physical aspects of basic training. However, once Hartman gets a load of what a sharpshooter Pyle is, the ton changes a bit, although he still seems to be a target in Hartmans eyes. The other trainee who garners Hartmans wrath gains the nickname Pvt. Joker (portrayed by Matthew Modine). He cracks jokes behind Hartmans back, hence the name, but suffers for his actions. The name sticks, however.
You know what really pisses me off about these people? We're supposed to be helping them and they shit all over us every chance they get...
Following boot camp, Full Metal Jacket follows Joker to Viet Nam, where he is assigned as a reporter for Stars & Stripes. This is somewhat startling as it might seem at first that all the characters viewers have become invested in during the first half disappear, save one. Joker is dissatisfied with his role and yearns to see some action. Needless to say, he gets what he asks for when he and his photographer, Rafterman (portrayed by Kevyn Major Howard) are assigned to cover a field infantry unit. This reunites him with boot-camp buddy Cowboy (portrayed by Arliss Howard).
The platoon is subjected to a particularly ruthless sniper who shoots to wound so other members of the platoon will be drawn out to try to rescue them, and then they are shot as well. Joker is caught in the middle between two questions of morality, neither of which are completely satisfying.
The feeling of getting two movies in one is both beneficial and a detriment. Two very different experiences in regard to the war can be explored. At the same time, the feeling of losing the majority of characters I had an emotional investment was disquieting. At the same time, what seems like two distinct experiences allows it to come full circle for Joker at the end when he must make a choice between the remnants of his humanity or giving in to the emotionless persona the Drill Sergeant tried to create in boot camp.
What was startling for me and for many was the depictions of boot camp. Everything Ive ready by people who actually went through it indicates that this is accurate. If I ever thought a military career was good for one of my children, I would change my mind after viewing this. In the name of stripping the draftees of their individuality and having them come together as a team, they are humiliated, pushed beyond their physical limits, forced to repeat the same tasks over and over, and generally have the humanity driven out of them. That their instructor seems to infuse them with thoughts that violence and sex go hand in hand is also disturbing in terms of who they would become if they survived the experience and returned to society.
The performances are all good, but there are three which really stand out. R. Lee Ermey is perfect as the sadistic drill instructor. He made me feel uncomfortable watching him, and that is what drives the point of what happens in basic training home. Vincent D'Onofrio is wonderful as Pyle. The night before they are to be deployed when he is in the bathroom in the shadows, just the way he holds his face and makes his eyes look is really a depiction of how he's been broken and is just a shadow of his former self. What an incredible performance.
Also of note is Adam Baldwin as Animal Mother, a soldier with the platoon in Viet Nam who seems to be bordering on insanity. He is one of those that truly frightens me as to what he would become back in society once his tour is over. He seems to be the type that will go into law enforcement just for the excuse to fire his weapon. Baldwin gets to stretch a lot with this and is very convincing. I was surprised a lot because I recognized his face, not his name, from the many supporting roles hes had, including in Independence Day. Its a shame he couldnt build more on his performance here and get more quality roles.
The scenery and cinematography are a bit off since this was filmed entirely in Great Britain, rather than a tropical setting which could easily double for southeast Asia. Filming there worked fine for the Parris Island sequences, but Kubricks vision of Viet Nam is quite different than any other war movies Ive seen and I have to believe that is due to the location of the shoot. Its not horrible, but it felt more like I was watching the darkness over Europe during World War II than Viet Nam.
Full Metal Jacket is definitely worth watching, although I hardly think its the best film made about Viet Nam. There are some terrific performances and a good story about the humanity within us and if it has any place on the battlefield. I didnt find it to be pro-war or anti-war although the boot-camp sequences would seem to fall into the anti-war category. However, with the number of people stating just how accurate it is, makes me see it as neutral. The first half is definitely stronger than the second, but it does eventually come together if given the chance. All in all, this is a good film.
© 2008 Patti Aliventi
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