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Platoon

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The film was nominated for numerous awards, it won Best Picture at the Academy Awards 1987 and Stone picked up Best Director not only here, but also at the Golden Globe Awards and won at the Directors Guild of America and a British Academy Award for direction.



More Trivia from Platoon
In 1967, Oliver Stone left Oakland, CA for Vietnam. As the air miles elapsed he would lose a day, his 21st birthday.

Specifically requesting infantry duty in Vietnam, the transformation from young writer and poet, to a solider and man would soon be complete. Stone's "tour" led him to a state of mind which would be seen in the man's films that followed. In particular, his personal story (Stone both wrote and directed) would become 'Platoon', a lean and raw masterpiece that created platforms for it's actors and propelled Stone into an assured film maker.

We begin as a young soldier Chris Taylor (Sheen) is 'delivered' birth-like into the harsh glare of Vietnam. The body bags he sees as he steps off a transport plane are the dead soldiers he has come to replace, their courage re-born into him as he takes their role in combat. The character is seen as a privileged one, who wants to learn from societies outcasts, those sent to war representatives of a country who has and will reject them. These individuals surround Taylor as he speaks to us via a voice-overs (letters home to Grandma).

Like Stone, the war would be his own metamorphosis and an unlikely passage to manhood. We soon learn of the dividing factors arising within the unit, the men separated by two main characters who have contrasting philosophies on the essence of war and the predicament they have been plunged into. Sgt. Barnes (immortalised by Tom Berenger) is a gung-ho tactician, he gains respect from his men via intimidation and remorseless actions, a man embraced the inhumanities of war and sees them as the way forward and ultimately the way out.

[*** Spoilers below, only read more if you have already seen the movie! ***]

Willem Dafoe is Sgt. Elias, he takes Taylor under his wing and preaches his own way forward... a Shamantic icon to his followers who see him as their salvation through compassion and inter-racial harmony.

Taylor is introduced to the 'heads', the pot smoking clan of GIs whose minds one sedated by the drug-induced gatherings that occur in their bunker. The platoon are concerned with the vanishing of a soldier whilst out on patrol, when he is found staring lifeless and strung up by the enemy, Barnes's fury comes to the fore when they discover a village he believes could harbour a NVA stronghold.

Stone handles these emotional scenes with an undeniable eye for realism tinged with human nature. Elias thwarts Barnes's insane attempt at wiping out the villagers, including women and children and when commanding officers learn of the incident a court marshall seems imminent for those responsible. An oncoming ambush creates panic amongst the group and with warring factions present we approach a section of the film that's almost Shakespearean in it's set up.

Barnes senses his chance to kill Elias when the two are alone in the jungle, their eyes meet with Sgt. smiling as he puts bullets in the Shamans chest. He tells Taylor and the others of Elias's fate at the hands of NVA and when an airlift rescues the remaining men, Taylor's fears reconfirmed as below the figure of Dafoe is seen fleeing hordes of enemy, finally being gunned down amongst a hail of bullets whilst delivering the Christ-like pose in death that is familiar to us via the poster art.

In the bunker, the 'heads' discuss events and Taylor, although, vengeful is loathe to confront Barnes who listens in the shadows with the others unaware of his presence. He appears and confesses his guilt, branding Elias as a crusader he offers them all the chance for retribution, they decline his offer but Taylor reacts and is almost killed by the Sgt., who promptly slices his face as a warning.

The film moves on with various characters portrayed to the viewer caught up in their own private struggles, some are given a ticket out of combat, like King who's friendship with Taylor is instrumental in the young GIs philosophy and survival and others like Bunny (Dillon) who has accepted his predicament and has grown to enjoy the horrors of combat, a perfect portrayal of the consequences of war and the insanity's that can infest the human mind during life or death ultimatums.

The finale has the platoon surrounded by enemy in numbers, their situation becomes increasingly dangerous with a stronghold of NVA seeming to have the edge forcing the men like John C McGinley to take evasive and cowardly actions, the pathetic soldier hiding beneath a dead body praying for the battle to end. Amid chaotic scenes of disorganization we see Taylor frantic with fear yet functioning through adrenaline he takes out many enemy unaware that his end could come from one of his own.

A battle scene handled with immense energy and gusto by Stone see Barnes finally getting Taylor in his sights, the Sgt. moves in on the young GI With the situation unattainable an air strike is motioned which when the explosions commence ultimately save Taylor from the spade-wielding Barnes intent on bludgeoning the soldier and thus ending any speculation over the fate of Elias. The aftermath of the napalm strike leaves area eerie in silence... the scorched figure of Taylor gets to his feet. Amongst the carnage and empty atmosphere he arms himself and scans the debris for life, he locates a writhing soldier badly wounded and blackened by the fireball explosion. The broken body of Barnes clinging to his last breath is shown as he sees Taylor and accepts his fate, urging the soldier to end his suffering. Shots ring outward into the void of silence with the transformation completed from young soldier initiated into the horrors of conflict and finally facing his own darkside and inhumanity.

Helicopters airlift the survivors... with Sheen looking out over the circles of ashen bodies... breaking down he declares "I think now, looking back.. we did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves.. and the enemy was in us" and then "The war is over for me now, but it will always be there for the rest of my days" A profound epitaph for this film and indeed a pointer to the success of the mans career who here delivered a tour de force of emotional dignity through expose' of needless brutality.

Verdict?

The picture is essentially an attempt in re-creation, of the characters existed during Stone's tour of duty... himself like Taylor "the son of two fathers" "fighting for possession of his soul".

For Stone the film was a personal odyssey, he had succeeded in showing the world what the war had left with him and what it had done to the American psyche... the thought process on the Vietnam conflict was changing and 'Platoon' was instrumental in portraying the realities of conflict seen through the camera eye of the director - a man who had experienced at first hand the effects they had.

Recruiting Captain Dale Dye to get the actors into shape physically and mentally was a masterstroke, a rigorous training regime was enforced with Dye impressed by the effort and staying power of the group. 'Platoon' was a worldwide phenomenon and was seen as a document in the reality of war... the surreal aspects of earlier films like 'Apocalypse Now' (1979) seemed to pale in comparison to this 80's landmark with Stone's camera showing the impact of cruelty on the faces and souls of its perpetrators.

The film was often mis-understood as 'just' a blockbuster. The action-orientated movie-goer loved it for its unflinching approach and the anti-war left based groups accepted it as a prime example of wars callous futility, even the establishment embraced it as a fitting tribute to the fighting man with the intelligent among us content with symbolism and philosophical perspective it contained.

Just as Taylor develops into a soldier, 'Platoon' also provided a good metaphor for Stone's development into a director... the man is a true visionary, whose ideals have remained throughout his career. This is a radical and excessive filmmaker who we should all notice for his contribution to the art-form that is cinema!

Notice any mistakes? Review

Strengths: Probably the finest 'Nam film ever made.

Weaknesses? No weaknesses.

Our rating: 9.5 out of 10


Review Written by Nik Allen:  Contact  |  More Reviews by Nik Allen
Platoon