Every week, one of the Filmoria team will be pulling a skeleton from their closet in the form of a classic film that they’ve never seen. It could be a film from decades ago or one that has recently been heralded as ‘one of the best’ in recent times, but either way there’ll be one less film on their list of shame. This week, Sub-Editor Chris Haydon discovers a side to Charlie Sheen that isn’t quite so mental as he watches Platoon for the first time…
As someone who studied film at university, and has continued to further my knowledge of the silver screen ever since, it’s pretty embarrassing that Oliver Stone’s seminal Vietnam war drama Platoon (1986) passed me by. In fact, the shame is intensified by the fact that I’ve seen every other film from the director, and indeed the vast majority of American war cinema.
To this day, I’m kind of unsure how this film has evaded my radar, made even more bizarre by the fact that my Film Studies lecture theatre had the now iconic poster artwork hanging proudly upon the wall, and yet still I never opted to view. Personally speaking, Stone is not an auteur I greatly care for. JFK and Wall Street are sublime, and World Trade Center is an underrated text, but I often find his political voice too aggressive, and his framing heavy-handed. Plus he just does not know when to call cut. I mean, seriously, his films are just so long. Still, at a breezy (term used lightly…) 120 minutes, Platoon is one of his shorter entries, and after many years of neglect, is finally getting watched.
Perhaps what impressed me most about the film was the musical choices. Platoon has an extremely interesting and rich assortment of orchestral and popular tracks by bands such as Jefferson Airplane and Smokey Robinson. The addition of audio cues such as these give the picture a surprising and rewarding texture. Aesthetically, it is a very pleasing piece, too; laden with sprawling imagery, feverish action set pieces, and a visceral urgency to shot composition. A large number of the angles and lenses Stone and cinematographer Robert Richardson opt for provide a rugged sense of realism, and I actually think this could be his most impressive title creatively speaking because of it.
The location shooting in the Philippines is gorgeous; lands littered with plush foliage, palm trees, sun-soaked shores. It is an extremely attractive and attention-grabbing setting for a story that is no doubts ugly and uncompromising. Having seen this film in the wake of many viewings of Gareth Edwards’ exceptional Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, you can really notice the influence he draws for Scarif. A sense of scale and weight resides in the dizzying battle scenes of Stone’s film, and it is clear that Edwards is drawing fond comparison throughout; serving up heartfelt homage across the climatic hour.
It was declared the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1986; a year in which, given the heft of its fellow nominees, was never not going to win (although it went up against Woody Allen’s Hannah and her Sisters which for my money is a far better film). Stone also earned a Best Director award, which was most certainly deserved. You can see his commandment on-set throughout Platoon; it has a military approach to design and construction, which lends perfectly to the narrative. The collection of masculine performances are universally solid, too. Charlie “Winning” Sheen is fantastic as Private First Class Chris Taylor, proving that he was a valiant talent in his prime; you know, before hookers, drugs, alcohol, and Two and a Half Men... Throughout there are a number of enthralling character moments for Taylor, one of which being his heroic prevention of a sexual assault at the hands of his fellow men.
Tom Berenger is great also as Staff Sergeant Robert Barnes, and a very young Willem Dafoe (who I had no idea was the guy on the poster…) delivers a screen-turn packed with emotional clout as Sergeant Gordon Elias. The sequence in which he is basically crawling for his life in slow-motion is staggeringly profound. On the flip-side, I starting cracking up when a baby Johnny Depp appeared, as well as Dr. Perry Cox from Scrubs (yes, I know John C. McGinely is in lots of films including Wall Street, but I just cannot see him as anything other than Perry now…)
In comparison to a number of other postmodern war films centred around Vietnam, I don’t think Platoon is quite as impressive or potent as say The Deer Hunter or Apocalypse Now, but it is a muscular, alarming, and often confrontational piece which I most certainly should have seen way before now. It ranks comfortably alongside Stone’s Born of the Fourth of July with Tom Cruise, too. I am very pleased that I have rectified the wrongs of my past and finally removed this one from my shame list, and I can now sincerely appreciate its influence on American filmmaking practice and popular culture.
Keep locked to Filmoria every week as each member of the team will be visiting a movie classic that they’ve never seen and give their thoughts!