1986 • Platoon

Platoon 1986 Best Picture

Platoon, 1986 Best Picture

War movies are fairly difficult for me to judge. Some are forgettable, but the ones that really seem to stick with me are ones with a great subplot, or where war is the subplot to the main story, like The Best Years of Our Lives and The Bridge on the River Kwai. What would be in store for our next war movie? Saturday night, Lauren, Sarah, and I watched the 1986 Best Picture winner, Platoon, the first of a series of three Oliver Stone films based on the Vietnam War. I had high hopes going in after movie guru friend Jason LaPlant told me it was one of his favorites and he owns it on DVD.

Platoon is set in Vietnam/Cambodia and stars a young Charlie Sheen as Chris Taylor, a young American soldier who quit college and signed up for the army. Platoon is heavy on carnage but, as I had hoped, has an intriguing subplot. Taylor’s company is split into sides when the reasonable Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe) and ill-tempered Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger) have different ways of going about their business and clash on a number of occasions. This really comes to a head when Elias and Barnes break out in a fistfight during the raid of a village, after Barnes has murdered an innocent woman who he believes is hiding the whereabouts of the Viet Cong soldiers.

Later in the movie, the platoon is ambushed and many soldiers are killed. Barnes orders his troops to run away and be airlifted out of the area, then goes back into the jungle, finds Elias, and shoots him in the chest. Elias manages to hobble out of the jungle as the helicopters are taking off, but he is shot and killed by the North Vietnamese. Taylor knows the truth and vows to kill Barnes the next time he gets the chance, which he does when the platoon is again ambushed, leaving nearly everyone dead or severely injured.

Aside from the three major characters, there are plenty of other big names in Platoon, including Forrest Whitaker, John C. McGinley, and Johnny Depp. The legendary Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay after his own experiences serving in Vietnam, and also directed the film.

Famous scene of Elias recreated, Platoon 1986.

Famous scene of Elias recreated.

Platoon was a surprisingly interesting movie, and not just because it was fun to see a young Dr. Cox (McGinley from Scrubs) throwing grenades and talking in a southern accent. It really was one of those edge-of-your-seat thrillers—you never knew when an attack was coming and who might be killed.

Here’s what I liked about Platoon: there was no message behind it or no symbolism that needed to be read into. It was just Oliver Stone showing how crappy it was to be there. (At least according to this Roger Ebert review.) Ebert also put it well when he explains how Platoon was effective because unlike previous war movies, the characters are basically as clueless as the viewers as to who is shooting at who and why. Other war movies had helped the viewers along by drawing lines showing who was the good guy, who was the bad guy, when and where attacks were happening and why. But in Platoon all of that is ignored and we only see the first-hand experience of the soldiers, and only know as little about what is going on as they do.

Overall, I’d have to give Platoon a strong rating. One of the better war movies I’ve seen.

1 Comment

  1. […] Out of Africa. For me it was a real snoozer. Saturday, Sarah was over and we watched 1986′s Platoon, an Oliver Stone Vietnam War film. And on Sunday, we took on 1987′s The Last Emperor, the […]

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