I first saw Platoon about fifteen years ago and it was such a brutal experience, I swore off ever watching the flick again. Like Deliverance, it disturbed me so much that I didn’t ever want to go through it again. Because of my recent Oliver Stone studies, I decided to check it out. And I’m thankful I revisited the film. It went down a lot smoother this time but it was still just as powerful as I remembered.
Like most great movies, Platoon doesn’t necessarily follow a “plot”. It’s more about a man’s experiences and how it changes him forever. The man in question is Chris (Charlie Sheen). He’s a wet behind the ears kid that enlists in the Vietnam War because it seemed like the right thing to do. His two superiors Barnes (Tom Berenger) and Elias (Willem Dafoe) are as different as night and day. When Chris witnesses Barnes’ inhumanity firsthand; he has to worry about not only surviving the VC but Barnes as well.
You know, Platoon may seem kinda quaint now watching it post-Saving Private Ryan. That movie was a game changer. Ryan really rubbed your nose in the brutality of war and made you feel like you were there, but overall, it just left ya numb. Platoon on the other hand keeps you on pins and needles the whole time so when there is a burst of violence, it really gets to you. Saving Private Ryan is an all-out assault. Platoon is a sneak attack.
Director Oliver Stone achieves a sense of dread throughout the whole film. He keeps ratcheting up the suspense and knows how to put the audience through the wringer. Like the way a seemingly routine search winds up with tragic results. Or how a simple interrogation slowly escalates into a husband seeing his wife’s head blown off in front of him and his daughter being held at gunpoint. Stone also makes the jungle realistic and the battle scenes tense as Hell. The editing is confusing on purpose because none of the soldiers ever really see their enemies or know where the attacks are coming from. Unlike most of today’s directors, Stone can adequately show us the soldiers’ confusion without relying on that Shaky-Cam garbage.
Berenger and Dafoe are terrific in their respective roles. It’s kinda weird though seeing Berenger playing the crazy guy and Dafoe playing the nice guy. You’d think it be the other way around. This was still early in their careers though when they could be cast against type and it wasn’t a big deal because they didn’t have a type to be cast against yet. With his scarred face and brooding intensity, Berenger comes off as one scary motherfucker. And Dafoe is great as the soldier who dutifully looks after the new guys. Of course, this is Willem Dafoe we’re talking about here so he is going to do weirdo stuff like dish out bong hits from the chamber of a rifle, but still.
Fans of Chucky S. will be disappointed to know that “The Sheenage Factor” is kinda low. He more or less has to do the whole Wide Eyed Young Guy That Becomes Disillusioned and World-Weary thing. And that doesn’t give him a lot of time to do the cocky Sheeny things we’re used to seeing him do in pictures like Terminal Velocity and Navy Seals. I’ll be damned if he isn’t brilliant in this movie though. I mean the scene at the end where he goes fucknuts and starts shooting the shit out of everybody (“It’s fucking beautiful!”) is pretty amazing. You can scoff and call it stunt casting since Charlie’s dad Martin was in another important
This is also an important stepping stone for Charlie in terms of his Sheenage as it was his first Oliver Stone collaboration, his first team-up with Keith David (they later went on to star in the seminal Men at Work together), and his first exposure to Tom Berenger before they joined the Major League together.
What makes Charlie’s character so great is that he’s not a glorified war hero. He’s just another grunt stuck in the shit. He’s the new guy, and everyone in the platoon hates the new guy. (They call him “Cheese Dick”.) He’s given an assignment and he doesn’t know what to do because no one ever talks to the new guy. Eventually he discovers that the war is not about heroics; just survival.
Then there’s the supporting cast. We’ve got everyone here from Forest Whitaker to a young Johnny Depp in this fucker. Christ, even the fucking Candyman is in this movie. And there isn’t a bad actor in the bunch.
Bottom Line: One of the best fucking war movies ever made.