Platoon (1986)

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

Oliver Stone's "Platoon"

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.



2 responses to “Platoon (1986)

  • Aravind

    Ok Dhaval I know you’re new to this blogging stuff, and as much as I find following other people’s lives online a waste of time, I came across your blog and decided that I would check out how bad it was. Then I read your critique of Platoon……and thought to myself, “If this is what he got out of this movie, then he is not in a position to be writing movie critiques that other people can take seriously”. Seriously, dude, WTF? It seems to me that you watched this movie for its action, not for the well aimed crotch shot it takes at the conscription policy implemented by the USA during the Vietnam war.
    Im sorry, I know blogs are supposed to be a place to express personal opinions and views and it may have been unfair of me to personally target YOU on this. Then again, maybe not. This is not a movie that shows you the terrors of war, and how Sgt Elias and his M16 “got some” in the 1960’s. I want you to take a closer look at the attitude displayed by every other soldier in the platoon other than Pvt. Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen). They are grossly underprepared (as shown where Junior falls asleep on sentry), lack discipline (Sgt Barnes, high level NCO, is insubordinate to his platoon officer), and lack comraderie (Junior blames falling asleep on Taylor, and wants him punished). These soldiers lack these qualities and behave in a manner that would embarass the worst armed forces in the world, simply because of one fact. These soldiers do not believe in the mission. They do not want to be in the Vietnamese jungle. They were forced to be there because, unbelievable as it may sound, a lack of a better life at home. The USA drafted mainly men from the lower social class, from the rural areas, men without access to education or social welfare.
    So there you go, this is actually what the movie was about. The problems with morality, honour and mortality rise because of the root cause of the actions of the soldiers on the field, a mission that they don’t believe in.
    There’s my opinion….., my balls are now in your court (courtesy Tobias Funke)

    • dhavalb

      Hey Aravind. I’m glad you brought up that fact. This by no means is a critique on the major themes and plot of the movie, nor do I wish to do so in any of my future blogs because of the simple fact that every viewer takes something different away.

      I don’t want to write something describing what the movie is, and talk about the themes because that impacts whether or not someone will watch it. If I said it was a war movie talking about the Vietnam war, conscription in the States, and the socio-economic climate and its ramifications on the poor during war time, I could write an essay. These topics cannot be detailed on a single blog, nor can one person completely articulate the complex ideas to begin with.

      Classifying movies based on themes, especially ones based on historical events, sometimes deters people from watching them because of the background knowledge people assume they need to have before watching it. After watching it, and allowing movies like these to ferment in their minds, only then can people really come up with an opinion on the subject, one that belongs solely to themselves. This also allows them to perhaps see more into other aspects that you or I don’t see, and broadens the depth of the film altogether.

      I appreciate your critique of my critique, but I feel its aggressive tone is untoward. I applaud your opinion, and look forward to hearing what you think about movies I critique, but mind you, I won’t be talking about the themes too much, rather the style and quality of film-making involved. I think this gets more people to watch these sometimes “forgotten” movies seen and talked about on their own. I recommend you give some of these other movies a chance and see where I am going with this blog, and you might then understand what I am talking about. Opening people up to new styles of movies, and expanding their library will widen their appreciation of many different subjects and themes, and get them to think about topics like morality, honour and mortality for example more.

      That is the point of film, and that’s what I want people to see.

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