Platoon
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Platoon

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It’s a regrettable but essentially true observation that many generations are defined by the wars its young men are called to fight. Wars tend to alter the fundamental structure of society on every conceivable level ranging far deeper than the usually examined socio-economic impact many scholarly people concentrate on. War alters the social dynamic of a culture frequently with changes that persist long after the cause for the conflict is forgotten and the hostilities have ceased. For the Baby Boomers our parents had Korea and World War two but we had our own war, Vietnam. One aspect that made this war different from the previous and current ones was the draft, involuntary induction to join the armed forces of the United States. Generations were pitted against each other and the youth routinely took to the streets to protest the war, the draft and a general dissatisfaction with how the previous generation was administering the world we would one day inherit. Since ‘World War One’ movies have been around to bring war stories to the local cinema. The very first academy Award for best picture went to a war film, ‘Wings’. In WWII most films displayed the brave and necessary struggle to defeat the Axis powers. Then, our generation gave rise to a new type of movie to address Vietnam, the anti-war film. Movies became part of the voice raised against the war and one of the most notable filmmakers from this generation was Oliver Stone, a man who not only made movies about Vietnam but served there as an American infantry soldier. He expressed his views through a well regarded trilogy focused on the war both from the vantage point of combat to the repercussions that echoed through the home front. The films comprising this series were; ‘Platoon’,’ Born on the Fourth of July’ and ‘Heaven and Earth’. This consideration looks at the New Blu-ray release of the first of these movies, Platoon. For members of my generation this is a difficult movie to watch Most of us either lived through stories similar to this, have friends forever changed there or those that went but never returned.

Oliver Stone is arguably one on the most controversial filmmakers of our generation. From his films centered on contemporary Presidents; Nixon, John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush Stone demonstrated a keen interest in modern American history. With his Vietnam trilogy this master director places a unique personal perspective on his work telling the story of a life he lived; a ground solider in the jungles of this tiny war-torn country. The year is 1967, what would be seen later as the point when the war was ramping up to its height. Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) decided to leave his studies in college in favor of combat duty in the army. Upon his arrival he is greeted with a grim, foreboding sight, his predecessors in body bags being loaded into the plane from their return trip home. Taylor is assigned duty in a platoon operating close to the Cambodian border. His compatriots are battle weary and worn thin by the arduous conditions forced on them by the jungle terrain and declining morale. Try as he might Taylor finds the prospect of befriending the experienced soldiers as grim as the assignment. The jingoistic enthusiasm he felt in the recruitment office has faded replaced by a group mentality devoted solely to survival. During a firefight with the North Vietnamese Army a friend is killed and another, Tex (David Neidorf), is badly injured by a grenade tossed by an American soldier, Sergeant O'Neill (John C. McGinley). Taylor received a relatively minor wound and upon his return from the hospital is afforded more acceptance from the ‘Heads’, a tight knit group known for the drugs they consume in their makeshift bunker club house. Taylor finds a mentor in battle veteran King (Keith David) who compensates for his lack of formal education with a jungle honed situational savvy. On a routine patrol member of the group is found dead, brutally mutilated by the enemy; an act that sets the Heads into a blood rage. They come upon a small village where they torment the inhabitants and the group, including Taylor shoots villagers. Before leaving Barnes (Tom Berenger) rapes a young Vietnamese girl until Taylor has a bout of humanity and intervenes. The incident is reported by Sgt. Barnes (Willem Dafoe) but due to man power shortage it is not considered prudent to proceed to a court marshal. The previously existing hatred between the two sergeants bois over until the men, including Taylor murder Barnes to cover up the actions in the village.

This film captures the essence of war. Not the heroic charges to vanquish an enemy posing clear and present danger to the home front but war as far removed from the foundation of civilized behavior. Unlike the soldiers fighting the Nazis the men in fighting in Vietnam for the most part didn’t want to be there, were uncertain why they were there and just trying to hold on until their tour ends. Men like Taylor may have had idealistic motives but they soon vanished in the smoke of combat. Civilization was a fading memory and the protection of laws something lost in the chaos. Taylor represents a new military trope that came from this specific war. He comes ‘In country’ naïve and idealistic but by aligning himself with someone whose humanity has already been eroded by brutality Taylor is a responsible not only removed from reason but force to face his own dark side. Stone’s extraordinary eye for detail and framing a shot is even more exceptional in high definition. This Blu-ray edition showcases the lush greens of the jungle contrasted with the drab uniforms of the men. The audio enfolds you giving a soundstage that brings the jungle to every corner of your living room. You most likely have seen this film before but now it becomes an experience.

Posted 05/21/11

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