Film Review: Platoon

There are just some nights when for some reason you need to watch a war film. It’s not some underlying desire to scratch a psychopathic itch about killing people, or a longing for violence and death but rather, the simple, honest fact that from time to time comedies, thrillers and romance just don’t provide the unexplainable escape from reality we all need from time to time.

Last night for some reason was one of those nights, and thankfully, sitting in the “to watch” pile was Platoon. Now, for somebody who likes movies as much as I do, I’ve even gone as far as to say in the past that they are “the books of my life” I need to add Platoon to the list of “big name classic movies I’d never seen”. Die Hard and Mad Max, you have a new friend. And so, with the washing up done I sat back to let Oliver Stone work his magic.

I went into Platoon with preconceived ideas as to what to expect. I was going in believing this to essentially be Oliver Stone’s story. His memories as a soldier fighting in the Vietnam war. I wasn’t expecting a documentary, but I wasn’t expecting the film I got either. Going into Platoon, having heard enough reviews over the years and having watched the trailer, I was expecting a war film, seen through the eyes of a soldier.

What I got was a confusing and twisted commentary. A social narrative into the human psyche and the lengths you can push a man, and his morals, before he snaps. Before that moment the leash of personal survival breaks and self preservation is forgotten. The fact it is set in a war becomes of secondary importance, granted the plot and descriptions wouldn’t work anywhere else, but it’s not the foundations on which this film is based. It’s the wall paper they’ve used to decorate. And that was strange considering this is Oliver Stone’s story, created to counter the vision of the war shown in The Green Berets staring John Wayne.

I think though I understand why I have issues with this film, why I find it strange it’s hailed as a stand out, impressive war film when that entire element of the film seems disjointed and underused. Firstly, I think I have come to this film far too late. I’ve it’s a film with a lot of actors beginning the paths of their careers. Charlie Sheen, Johnny Depp, John C. McGinley, Forest Whitaker , Willem Dafoe. The first three, for instance, have through recent years name a name for themselves in comic roles: it’s hard to really believe in the messages and the strengths of a serious film when you’re watching Charlie Harper, Captain Jack Sparrow and Perry Cox holding the line. And that’s before you realise that Sheen looks like he about to walk directly onto the set of Hot Shots Part Deux.

Platoon

It’s not all bad though, one place where this film really shines, really comes alive is through its soundtrack. Or rather it’s lack of it. It won the 1986 Oscar for “Best Sound Mixing” and I can truly believe it because essentially you only have two sounds in this movie. The sound of war and the reflective sound of Barber’s “Adagio For Strings“. That may sound overly simple, but what it does is divide the film up perfectly. Sound in this film is used to create emotion. Stone knows a picture speaks a thousand words but also that sound can reinforce an idea stronger than anything else and uses both tactics with the ultimate skill.

However, this technical brilliance, this masterstroke in the art of film subtleties is let down, for me, by the plot. I said at the start there is an overwhelming sense of hidden commentary in this film, that the action on screen is of secondary importance to that of the unspoken work. Of the message of suggestion and the thoughts they provokes. And this can be seen by the fact that time and position are almost impossible to follow throughout the film.

As it progressed, the passage of time, the time scales from day to day, became harder and harder to follow. I never felt I truly knew how long things were meant to take or how long situations had lasted. And it’s the same with position. They march from village to village, tent to tent, from command point to front line, but you are never really sure how far anything is. The film lacks a sense of scale. A sense of distance.

It could be that this is another subtle brush stroke from Stone, reinforcing the horrors of war, the unintentional side effect of mental paranoia created from an environment in which nothing is normal. He could be removing our passage of time, our sense of scale to comment that soldier’s lose their way, that in a jungle fight, you lose that grip on reality. But for me, in the setting of a film, in the setting of this film, it served more as a hindrance, as an annoying break in concentration than any idea enhancing tool. And that is such a shame.

I am really not sure how to rate Platoon. It’s not bad, but it’s not great, it simply seems to have fallen into no man’s land.

6.5 out of 10 stars (6.5 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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