Apocalypse Now (1979)
The Vietnam War has proven to be an irresistable subject for noted Hollywood directors. The carnage, the waste, and the illogic behind the war (in order to stop communism in a small, dirt-poor nation, it is proper to devastate it and kill much of the population) makes for more than an allegory of might and morality gone astray. It is a setting for excellent cinematography, and the tension latent to having nervous rifle-toting faceless teenagers (often played by much older famous actors) face violent death just around the corner.
Each director has his own spin on the war. Stanley Kubrick in "Full Metal Jacket" looks for irony. Michael Cimino in "The Deer Hunter" finds terror and torture in a P.O.W. camp. Oliver Stone in "Platoon" is concerned with ethics and power struggles. Francis Ford Coppola in "Apocalypse Now" sees the war as a bad acid trip, surreal and deadly.
It is ironic that "Apocalypse Now" begins and ends with the Doors' "The End". Ironic, because both the song and the movie are good despite a surreal and somewhat incoherent style. Perhaps it would have been more fitting if Marlon Brando's final words were "what a mess" rather than "the horror".
Martin Sheen plays a soldier whose new assignment is to go to Cambodia and kill a renegade colonel (Marlon Brando) who has gone insane and is worshipped as a god by his stoned troops. Rather than parachuting Sheen into the Cambodian jungle by plane, which would make too much sense, the plot has him taking a slow boat ride down a deadly river to Cambodia with several troubled young soldiers. (Admittedly, this makes for increased plot tension and excellent cinematography.)
Along the way, Sheen encounters Robert Duvall as a Lt. Colonel more interested in surfing and male bonding than in military strategy. Duvall has one of his goofiest roles, and is given great lines like "Charlie don't surf" and "I love the smell of napalm in the morning".
With most of the film leading up to Sheen's confrontation with the insane colonel, it is a letdown that the colonel turns out to be bald, bloated and blithering Marlon Brando. Brando's character is fond of reading aloud sheets of paper that have all the wisdom of "Zippy the Pinhead" comic strips.
My favorite part of "Apocalypse Now" is the U.S.O. show, which I have always associated with the likes of Bob Hope and Martha Raye. Instead, we get Playmate of the Year Cynthia Wood, who dances and teases the hard-up young soldiers until they mob the stage, forcing the dancers to make a panicked exit by helicopter.
"Apocalypse Now" was a troubled Phillipines production that took over a year to film and went well over budget. A hurricane wiped out the set, Martin Sheen had a heart attack, Marlon Brando proved uncooperative, and the helicopters (ironically) were sometimes taken away by Marcos to fight guerillas.
Look for Harrison Ford and Laurence Fishburne in small roles.
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