So this is something that is a little outside my norm as it comes to my movie owning. See, while I watch them from time to time, I generally don’t buy a lot of war movies. Actually, this might be the only war movie I own that does not have some sort of sci-fi or fantasy twist to it. Now I had seen this movie before and the main thing that I remember from the movie was Barber’s Adagio for Strings, mainly because I was in orchestra throughout junior high and high school and I played that piece many, many times. Then I was wandering around Target or Wal-Mart (honestly don’t remember which store) and saw a copy of the DVD in the bargain bin for $5 and decided what the heck. So here is to a random impulse buy as I watch today’s movie, Platoon.
The plot: In September 1967, US Army volunteer Chris Taylor arrives in Vietnam near the Cambodian border and is assigned to a platoon led by Lt. Wolfe, though Wolfe himself defers to Sgt. Barnes and Sgt. Elias, two of the more veteran soldiers in his unit. When the platoon had been in the field for a week, Barnes and Sgt. O’Neil arrive at the officers’ meeting with news of NVA movement. Wolfe asks Barnes for his recommendations and Barnes ends up giving out orders to everyone, after which Wolfe tells Barnes that he should be the one giving orders in front of the men. Chris is assigned to a nighttime ambush led by Elias and O’Neil and after taking his shift on watch, he wakes up Junior, the next man on guard duty, and gets some sleep. Sometime later, Chris wakes up and realizes that Junior had fallen asleep and he sees some NVA soldiers approaching. When the NVA hit a perimeter trap, a firefight ensues and Chris ends up getting grazed in the neck while another new recruit, Gardner, is killed and a third man loses his hand. When the fighting stops, Barnes blames Chris for falling asleep at his post, despite Chris saying that it was Junior’s turn at watch. Chris is sent to the hospital for a few days and when he comes back, he makes friends with King, who has Chris join him that night with some of the other guys that smoke marijuana, including Elias Big Harold. The next day, the platoon heads out on patrol and discovers a NVA bunker and stops to investigate it. Elias crawls down into a tunnel and finds a dead NVA soldier and shoots another one further down the tunnel. One of the soldiers finds some maps in a drop box but when he goes to move it, triggers a booby trap, killing himself and another soldier. Wolfe radios for support and then tells Elias to leave 4 men at the bunker site as they have been ordered to investigate a village up ahead. At the village, they find evidence that the NVA was using the village as a supply depot and Barnes interrogates the village chief and ends up shooting his wife. When Barnes threatens the chief’s daughter, Elias shows up and ends up fighting with Barnes until it is broken up by Wolfe, who tells them they are ordered to torch the village. As the soldiers start setting the village, and the supplies, on fire, Chris sees some of Barnes’ men attempting to rape two girls and quickly breaks it up. Returning to base camp, Barnes and Elias tell the company commander, Captain Harris, their version of what happens and Harris tells them that there will be an investigation and if there was an illegal kill, there will be a court martial but right now he needs every man in the field and orders the two men to quit the hostilities between them. On their next patrol, the soldiers end up getting ambushed and several men are wounded. As Wolfe starts ordering in an artillery strike, Elias tells him that they will be caught in a crossfire and takes three men, including Chris, to go with him and stop the NVA from flanking them. Wolfe accidentally orders the artillery strike on the men’s position, causing several more men to be wounded or killed and Barnes yells at Wolfe before ordering the men to fall back while he goes to get Elias and the others. Meanwhile, Elias has Chris and the others position themselves and then heads off alone down river. When the NVA appear, Chris and the others start shooting, killing three of them and scaring the others off but one of the soldiers is wounded. Barnes shows up and tells them to fall back while he gets Elias but when Barnes runs into Elias, he shoots him and leaves him for dead, telling Chris that the NVA killed him when BArnes runs into him. As the helicopters arrive to take the men out of there, Chris sees Elias being chased by the NVA soldiers and though the helicopter turns around to try and rescue him, he ends up being killed. Chris sees Barnes expression and, realizing that Barnes left Elias to die, tries to get some of Elias’ men to get revenge on Barnes. A drunken Barnes overhears the conversation and mocks them for believing Elias’ take on the war. Chris attacks Barnes but is quickly overpowered and Barnes threatens to kill him with a push dagger but is talked out of it and cuts him under the eye instead. The platoon is sent back out to maintain a defensive position after a recent NVA attack and Chris and the others are assigned to various foxholes around the base perimeter. As several of the soldiers talk about having a bad feeling about this current mission, King is told his orders came through and he says goodbye to Chris and gets on the helicopter so he can go home. That night, the NVA soldiers attack and start overrunning the defensive perimeter, attacking the base camp itself, with a suicide bomber taking out the command tent. With the chance of survival rapidly dwindling, Harris calls in an airstrike on his position while out in the jungle, Chris runs into Barnes and is almost killed as Barnes has gone crazy during the attack but before Barnes can kill him, they are rendered unconscious by the blast from the airstrike. When Chris comes too, he grabs an enemy weapon and approaches Barnes, who asks him to call a medic but when he sees Chris not moving, tells him to go ahead and Chris shoots him. As the soldiers go through to check for survivors and take Chris back to the camp, he sees Francis, who had stabbed himself in the leg before he was found, and Francis tells him that since they have been wounded twice, they are going to be sent home. As Chris is loaded into the helicopter, he sees some of the other survivors and waves to his friends. As the helicopter flies over a crater filled with dead bodies, Chris thinks about everything that happened while he was out there and says it is up to those that survived the war to rebuild and find meaning to this life.
Platoon was highly praised by the critics, currently holding a certified fresh rating of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is, “Informed by director Oliver Stone’s personal experiences in Vietnam, Platoon forgoes easy sermonizing in favor of a harrowing, ground-level view of war, bolstered by no-holds-barred performances from Charlie Sheen and Willem Dafoe.” Platoon was the first Hollywood movie about the Vietnam War to be written and directed by someone who actually served in the war. The movie was a box office smash, earning $138.5 million off of a $6 million budget and wound up winning 4 out of the 7 Academy Awards that it was nominated for, including Best Picture and Best Director.
This was a very dark and gritty movie that really did deserve the awards it earned. The acting was really good, with Tom Berenger (Barnes) and William Dafoe (Elias) were both great in their roles, especially serving as opposing role models that help form Charlie Sheen’s character of Chris. The story was really good and you could really feel Oliver Stone’s own experiences in the war being shown in Chris’ experiences in the field. The battle scenes were brief at times but very intense, made all the more haunting because of Adagio being played during the firefights. The scene were William Dafoe is being chased by the NVA and falls as he is shot, gets up on his knees and yells out while lifting his arms in the air before falling dead is one of the more iconic scenes from the 80’s. Definitely a movie that is well worth watching.
Rating: 5 out of 5