Thursday, 15 November 2012

Vietnam Week 3: -Insert Bullet Description Here-

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. Today we look at Kubrick. As we all know, Kubrick is known for his masterpieces: 2001: Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining etc. This would lead one to presume that if he made a Vietnam film, it would be excellent. Well, he did, but does it live up to the expectations surrounding it? This is Full Metal Jacket.

Not just an analysis of the war in Vietnam, but also the brutal training that led to it - the war split into two narrative halves. The first half is boot camp and the soldiers training under the watchful and cruel eye of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) who is not just tough but heartless, especially towards Private Leonard 'Gomer Pyle' Lawrence (Vincent D'Onofrio), an overweight and unstable recruit. Eventually, Private Pyle is put under the command of Private J.T. 'Joker' Davis (Matthew Modine) who teaches him enough (and organises motivational punishments)  to get him through boot camp. The second half of the film focuses on Private Joker in his military career as a Stars and Stripes correspondent. we see him trying to find news that appeals to the military eye rather than the completely truthful eye. Teaming up with his good friend from boot camp, Private Cowboy(Arliss Howard), and some of his men, Eightball (Dorian Harewood) and Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin), he goes out to experience the 'front line' of the war.

The recruits had a bit of time for practising their
defence against a free kick in football/ soccer. 

There is a real shame in the acting in this film. While all the actors are fine and dandy, the two best actors are only in the first half: R. Lee Ermey and Vincent D'Onofrio as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and Private Pyle respectively. Ermey, having formerly been a Drill Sergeant, obviously knew his role back to front. Half of his most famous lines and scenes were completely unscripted and yet, you would never know. His character never falters (except for a split second when a gun is pointed at him) and because of this, he provides one of the rawest and most real performances cinema has to offer. D'Onofrio, on the other hand, has a reserved crazed aura about him. Whilst it is clear that he is not quite mentally stable, Hartman never seems to treat him differently and even compares him, indirectly, to Lee Harvey Oswald and Charles Whitman. What D'Onofrio  does so well is build gradually to a complete breakdown. The first signs of crazy are introduced through speech but Pyle shows that it's not going well for him.

A film with a film in it. Woah.

Stanley Kubrick is, no doubt, a cinematic genius. The film, from start to finish, is shot like no other war movie. With more tracking shots than you can shake a stick at, Full Metal Jacket seeks not to show the grit or horror of war, but to give a clearer, external perspective of the action of the Vietnam War. Almost post-modern in its approach in this sense - there's one scene in which Private Cowboy's men are all slumped down as a documentary crew pass and the camera sot follows the camera crew. One of the finest soundtracks in the entire film genre too; extremely jarring with what is actually on screen and, somehow, this really works. The films real success is in its dialogue. From the constant brutality of Hartman, to Joker's wit, one thing is always consistent: the quality of what is being said. Simple conversations can raise huge points which many films fail at. (One Colonel asks Joker, 'You write "Born to Kill" on your helmet and you wear a peace button. What's that supposed to be, some kind of sick joke?' and just like that, the subject of war and the duality of man is a prominent issue.)

A great war film with an outstanding first half. The second half, while still good, is significantly weaker but the entire movie is rounded off with possibly the most bitter sweet ending known to man. While not one of Kubrick's greatests it is still a must see for any of his fans or fans of the war genre, even if it is just for the first half.


Best Bit? Well, it has to be the first time that Hartman goes around insulting the men. More quotable lines than the entirety of Mean Girls.

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