Monday, 12 November 2012

Vietnam Week 1: Apocalypse Then

Out in the world of films there are more than a few war films. Perhaps this is because, as a species, we have so many wars. Whatever the reason is, it seems that we can never get tired of one war. The war that, if you weren't there, you can never imagine. Described by more than one solider as a hell on Earth and claimed 58,282 U.S. Solider's lives. The war in Vietnam. Our first film, stumbles in at number 36 at IMDb's top 250 and number 7 on Empire's Top 500 and so we can surely be assured that it is a good'un. Let's not beat around the bush and dive right into Vietnam. This is Apocalypse Now.

During the Vietnam War, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) - a man known for his actions on missions that simply do not exist - is recruited for a new mission: to find and terminate Colonel Walter E. Kurtz. (Marlon Brando) The Colonel has vanished into the depths of Cambodia and has gone mad. Claiming to be a god to a local tribe, the U.S. Military think it is best that he is removed from their payroll. The mission requires urgency and secrecy and so Willard teams up with a boat crew of four men (Jay 'Chef' Hicks (Frederic Forrest) Lance B. Johnson (Sam Bottoms) Tyrone 'Clean' Miller (Laurence Fishburne) Chief Phillips (Albert Hall)) who take him on their boat and head off toward Cambodia. Finding help and hindrances along the way – both, at points, in the form of Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) – the Captain becomes fixed on his mission and will not rest until it is completed.

Lance's teapot dance wasn't quite the threatening war chant he wanted.

It is a funny thing, casting. What would the film be without Martin Sheen as Willard? What would it be without Brando as Colonel Kurtz? Two iconic performances that almost never were. Martin Sheen was nowhere near the first choice for the role; the original actor was fired two weeks into shooting. But it sometimes seems that fate is on a film’s side. Martin Sheen, despite having a heart attack during filming, performed with such conviction and clarity that the character of Willard will not be forgotten any time soon. The calm surface that Sheen portrays that, at points, just evaporates. His acting shows that Vietnam has a bad effect on the mind, no matter how messed up the mind already was. Brando, despite being the biggest pain in any director’s backside ever, was incredibly intimidating. Considering he makes a whole tribe bow to his whim, he has to have an aura of power and strength, which he nails on the head. Admittedly, this may be more due to the clever direction as Brando had done no preparation for the part and had ruined his physical appearance, but, for argument’s sake, we will remember that Brando is an incredible actor. The rest of the supporting cast are brilliant and there is simply no way to review them all. They are all incredible.

'Put your fingers like this when you run out of ammo...
It'll look like ya have a gun.'

A gritty and realistic look at the war in Vietnam. Francis Ford Coppola famously described the film with the quote, 'My film is not a movie; it's not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.' With plenty of input from real Vietnam veterans, it is hard to believe that the film would not be a life like representation of the horror… the horror that was Vietnam. A shoot that went on for 16 months and way over budget and had Ford Coppola threatening suicide, the film possibly stopped being realism – a representation of the real – and became real. Originally was intended to be shot as a faux-documentary during the actual war but due to issues with timing and power, the film only went into production after the fall of Saigon and this could have been the best thing for the film. The way the film is shot is one of its best aspects. The constant tension throughout the film, built up as we watch the soldiers relaxing, is commonly brought to the most engaging climaxes that truly capture the chaos of the actual fighting in the war. Not to mention how ironically beautiful the film makes Vietnam seem: exotic colours, giant sunsets, coloured smoke rising up into the sky next to blazing fires; simply gorgeous.

There is no doubt that Apocalypse Now will forever be known as one of the greatest war films ever made, and some will argue that it is simply one of the greatest films ever made. Considering the term ‘apocalypse’ and the connotations surrounding it, the film really lives up to its name. If the world were to end tomorrow, it would not be a far off to assume that it will be a little like this film. Slightly haunting, slightly – and confusingly – beautiful, but completely amazing.

Best Bit? The boat is powering towards Cambodia. Lance B. Johnson releases a flare and dances around the boat surrounding them in a purple haze. Everything, for a brief moment, is glorious. Then, suddenly, the boat comes under fire. The juxtaposition, combined with the incredible colour and camera work, makes this scene stand out – for me – more than any other. 

No comments:

Post a Comment