Platoon (1986, Oliver Stone) – Review

Winner of 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Director in 1987, but platoon hasn’t aged well.

Platoon follows young soldier Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), on his first tour in Vietnam, as the innocent and romanticised view of war he arrives with are quickly destroyed by his experiences in the field.

I’ll start with the problems i had with the film, of which there are several.  The most important of these was the acting.  Standout performances from Berenger and Dafoe were not enough to attract my attention away from Charlie Sheen, whose performance in the central role is simply not good enough to carry the film.  Admittedly part of the problem was that i found it difficult to take him seriously playing such a serious part in such a huge film, due to the films and terrible tv i’ve seen him in since.  Unfair i know, but if his performance had been any good i wouldn’t have found myself thinking of Hot Shots every time he got angry.  I can’t help but feel that the added publicity and intrigue his casting generated (after his fathers famous appearance in Apocalypse Now) was a major factor in him being given the role.

Two other parts of the film, which for me fell flat, were the music and narrative letters.  The music was over played and for reasons i can’t put my finger on just didn’t work.  Maybe as i wasn’t particularly emotionally involved in the film it just felt  a little over the top and pretentious.  The same could be said for the letters, which i found to be rather uninspired and cringe-worthy, lacking any emotional resonance.  The scene in which Elias is killed, shown in the front cover, was a painfully over the top, overacted moment.

Stone certainly can’t be accused of glamorising the American military, and should be applauded for the genuinely shocking scenes involving US troops committing terrible atrocities against civilians.  Too many war films impose a simple good versus bad viewpoint, which is a wholly inaccurate and dangerous approach.  Stone made sure to avoid this.  At the core of the film, is the tense relationship between Barnes and Elias, which forces Taylor along with the rest of the Platoon to essentially choose sides.  This dynamic worked well, helped by excellent performances from Berenger and Dafoe.  The antagonism and disdain in the relationship was palpable.

Advertising and publicity for this film was heavily based on the fact that Oliver Stone himself served as an infantryman during the conflict in Vietnam, and that it was therefore the most realistic and personal onscreen representation of the war.  This combined with the good reception the film has received from Vietnam veterans, certainly lends credibility.

All in all, I was expecting more.  I have to say I think this a pretty overrated film and certainly not a masterpiece.

2.5star


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