From a purely aesthetic perspective I thought the film was well done. The acting was very good, and the script was well written, witty, and accurate. The actors were well suited to their roles. My personal preference for a good plot would have been disappointed were it not for my personal interest in the film. In my opinion this film is an outstanding dramatic-documentary, so adjust your expectations accordingly. If you are expecting a driving plot line and all the accompanying dramatic tension, then I think you will be disappointed (as many whose comments I heard exiting the theater certainly were). But if you think of it as a chance to take a glimpse into a point in history, and see it as some of those who lived it did, then I think you will be impressed.
Many people may think that the obscenity of some of the interactions was overdone for effect. But whatever anyone's personal judgment of that behavior, that is the closest portrayal of Marines (or soldiers) being themselves I have yet seen on screen. Marines are vulgar. They do watch porn. They do fight among themselves. They do both hate, and love, the Marine Corps. There is an omni-present anti-war conspiracy theorist. The do say ridiculous things. There are some who are over the line. The reality of the Marine Infantry is that things happen there every day that are well beyond conventional sensibility, and which strain credibility to the average civilian. It's all true. I love the Marine Corps and I am still serving - I don't have an axe to grind. It just happens to be true.
Are there parts of the film that I find incredible? Yes. But they are not the essential things. There is a scene, it's even in the trailer, in which everyone is firing their weapon into the air. I wasn't there, but I can't fathom a breach of discipline on that scale. I can't say it's impossible, but I am doubtful. But whether it's true or not is not important. At its essence this is a film about Marines, how they adjusted to the Marine Corps, each other, and a war. If there are a few incredible details, then we can just be grateful that Hollywood didn't impose a car-chase on us.
This is a film about Marines. At that time, there were very few who turned down scholarships to Ivy League schools to come in. We were from strange backgrounds. We were obscene. We did want to get our kills. Many of us were frustrated that our war was only 100 hrs long. We knew we were filling the footsteps of giants - the Marines of Iwo, The Chosin, Belleau Wood - and I think we all wanted a chance to earn a place next to those men. In our wild, adrenalized youth, those aspirations just took the crude form of looking for a kill. Or at least that's how I've put it in perspective 15 years later.
If you go and see this film, try to recall yourself at 18 (as I was). Suspend your judgment of the obscenity and vulgarity until you're sure you would've done it differently. I can't speak for Swofford, but I am still incredibly proud of my service there. The insanity of this film reminds me why: because it is characteristic of the immense hardship that our youth bears on behalf of the rest. Do the characters look stressed? It's not hyperbole. We were 18 and we thought we were going to die over there. Still, at H-Hour, everyone marched North. In my opinion, you better fill some big shoes before you judge that.
So don't go into this film champing at the bit to pigeon-hole it as "Anti" or "Pro" war, with all the pre-fab rhetoric that comes with such a judgment. You have an opportunity here to look back into our little moment in history. Swofford has invited you into our memories. They are not Right, and they are not Left, they are just our story as Swofford lived it. If that kind of thing interests you, then go and see this movie.
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