With “Platoon” I believe Oliver Stone captures the very essence of what he was trying to present, the idea that “The First Casualty of War is Innocence”. Its a strong statement, and one that is very controversial when discussing the ramifications of war on both sides of the conflict. This 2 hour epic is about the physical and emotional conflicts that plague a young recruit going into the already long and drawn out Vietnam war. Starring Charlie Sheen, that old guy from “Two and a Half Men”, or for you older readers, Michael J Fox’s replacement for “Spin City”, William Dafoe, the
acting veteran who also starred in the first Spidey movie as the Green Goblin, and Tom Berenger. It also includes the likes of Johnny Depp, Kevin Dillon (or for Entourage Fans, Johnny Drama), John C. McGinley (Dr. Cox from Scrubs), and Keith David. Its safe to say that this movie features a whole list of A-List authors, and may have spurred on the careers of such great actors like Forrest Whitaker, who won Best Actor for his role as Idi Amin in the “Last King of Scotland”.
Platoon is two things. First it is a war movie, and a damn good one at that. It shows the physical struggles and mental strain it takes to do the job. Charlie Sheen is a “noob” to war, and his lack of training and inability to keep up with more experienced soldiers is evident from the get-go. But more, its a film about life as a soldier, and the internal conflicts that arise; questions of morality, honour, and mortality, and what it means to be a soldier. Its these questions that really need to be answered and they are often overlooked.
War movies tend to be grouped into two categories: those glorifying it, and those condemning it. You hear a lot about both sides, and the ramifications of war on the civilians and society as a whole, but only recently have writers begun inspecting how it effects the soldiers. I think that “Platoon” was one of the earlier movies to look into this, and it set the bar pretty high in its dramatic approach.
Oliver Stone movies are special. With screenplays like “Scarface” and “Conan The Barbarian”, and having written “Wall Street” and “Natural Born Killers” Oliver Stone has a very distinct style, and one that is translated well in this movie. With great music and well written dialogue, “Platoon” has a lot going for it.
A film is only as good as its cast. It can make or break even the best of screenplays. This cast works. Charlie Sheen reached the peak of his career too soon. With “Platoon” followed by “Wall Street” the next year, I don’t think he ever got back to those heights ever again. William Dafoe stole the movie for me. Playing Sgt. Elias, his liberal sergeant provides the perfect juxtaposition to Tom Berenger’s hard-authoritative stance. Mix in a young Johnny Drama, Depp, and Whitaker, and you have a great versatile cast.
When I think of movies in retrospect, one thing always sticks with me. Whether that be a portion of the background score, or a specific line one of the characters might have said. In this case, its a 3 minute epic scene with Sgt Elias to the score of Adagio for Strings. I won’t reveal too much beyond that, and don’t google it because it may ruin the movie for you, but its actually one of the greatest scenes I have ever had the chance to see.
This is a great movie. It’s peak is that one scene with Sgt Elias, a scene that might go down as the best scene of William Dafoe’s career and epitomizes war in all of its elements. After that, looking at the character’s reactions, and their development is fascinating.
All in all, I recommend this to any person who wants to learn more about the human spirit, and how war impacts it. Understanding what it means to be human while shit hits the proverbial fan is how one truly discovers humanity, even in the corners of the world.