Tagline: The First Casualty of War is Innocence.
Synopsis: A young solider in Vietnam faces the biggest challenge of his convictions beyond the violence and death of war – the duality of man and the consequences of good and bad.
Meat & Potatoes: What am I going to write about on Memorial Day that hasn’t already been eulogized, praised, or otherwise shined light upon – but that’s exactly the point; movies like Platoon have to be made, they have to be discussed, and on days like this they serve no better purpose than to underscore the cost, consequence, and permanent scars both real and internal on the American soldier as the very mortar by which this country has been erected. Patriotism aside, Oliver Stone brings his personal experience to this film that cuts very quickly to the core of the conflict in a bloody battle between naivete and experience. Charlie Sheen gives what some would argue is the best performance of his career with notable supporting roles by Willem Dafoe, who remains today one of the most versatile actors around, Tom Berengers‘ transformation into the war hardened death-defying Sgt. Barnes is so complete that we can’t imagine the movie without him yet at the same time we can’t wait for his demise. Much smaller parts by Forest Whitaker, Johnny Depp, Keith David, Kevin Dillon and John C. McGinley are brief but no less memorable – some might argue that their combined talent alone provided the very real believability of the world of this story as nothing short of rock solid casting by the collective team of Pat Golden , Warren McLean , and Bob Morones.
The success of the film relies entirely on the shoulders of Oliver Stone, who at this time had only previously completed Salvador as a writer/director. Yet his screenplays were already propelling him to the forefront of the industry with scripts like Midnight Express in 1978, Conan The Barbarian(1982), Scarface(1983), and Year Of The Dragon in 1985. Perhaps best known in general audiences for his highly controversial films, like JFK and Natural Born Killers, and Alexander, Stone has been called a revisionist by critics and a love hate relationship has endured.
Many reviews steer clear of the argument over verisimilitude, creative license, and realistic portrayals of soldiers, the landscape, and the Vietnam culture in Platoon. Charlie Sheen’s character, Chris is the narrator of the story via letters home to his grandmother. His voice is strained, heavy with the burden of his experiences as though the innocence has been wrung from a handkerchief and quickly absorbed by jungle. There are no bad or good people in Vietnam, just grunts because grunts can take it. We enter the story of the Vietnam war without pretense or heavy servings of sentimentalism, instead the backdrop is very real and people die – some for a cause, some for nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Platoon didn’t invent the war movie nor does it purport to perfect it for to feel something is all any filmmaker can hope for and here, for all of Stone’s work to get it right, we feel sometimes more than we’d like to admit.
Bits & Bites:
Academy Awards Nominations
Total Nominations: 8
Total Wins: 4
The Closer: Platoon is an epic film about life, love, death and innocence that holds up against the test of time nearly twenty-five years later. Olive Stone has surrounded us with sand bags, dug us in for the long haul. Platoon achieves what so many films have failed to do before or since – populate a world he knew intimately with characters we all can relate to in a hell we hope we’ll never have to experience ourselves and are glad so many did for us.