The Vietnam War was on everyone’s mind in 1960s and 1970s in our country. It was the center of much of America’s troubles during this time, but only the soldier’s who fought in that war knew the true madness that was Vietnam. Oliver Stone began writing Platoon because the Vietnam War was “a pocket of our history nobody understands.” (Schuer t24) Platoon is a movie which should be viewed by everyone, not only for its cinematic qualities but for its historic insight as well.
Platoon is an Orion Pictures production, filmed in 1986. Written and directed by Oliver Stone it tells the gruesome story of a Vietnam War not known by the American public. Tom Beringer, who plays the experienced Sergeant Barnes, was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category along with Willem Defoe who plays Sergeant Elias. Charlie Sheen plays Chris Taylor, an idealistic student who had dropped out of college, joined the army, and volunteered for Vietnam. His idealism and view of war in general rapidly change during the course of the film. The character is based off the director Oliver Stone, who dropped out of Yale to join the war effort.
Chris and the rest of the soldiers are unaware of what they are getting into and are given little time to prepare. “Trapped in the cage of front-line life, living (if they’re luck) from moment to moment, values that apply elsewhere fade out for Barnes and others” (Kauffman 24). While serving his time Taylor experience the war in its full spectrum, from the homesickness and the comradery of the men to the nightmares of battle.
The enemy is the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong but you rarely view them except as shadowy figures in the jungle or momentarily illuminated by the light of a flare. There are no defined battle lines and the combat scenes lead you to believe that the enemy is everywhere. The line between good and evil is blurred or nonexistent in this film. Sergeant Elias is portrayed as a caring, intelligent leader who escapes reality through the use of drugs. His nemesis, Sergeant Barnes, is portrayed as an efficient fighting machine who will stop at nothing to get the job done. You soon realize that he, too, is just doing everything to ensure his own survival.
Platoon shows how the War affected the soldiers, and how none of them felt that they were fighting for a reason. The film shows the Vietnam experience from the average soldier’s point of view. In the beginning Chris Taylor is very ignorant and his chances of survival are slim. The movie went beyond just showing battles, with the showing of the moral dilemmas that the soldiers faced. The film does not in any way glorify the war in Vietnam. It is a gritty look at what the soldiers endured while serving their country. The men in the platoon come from all walks of life and all over the country. However they all share the same desire to serve their time and get as far away from the fighting as possible. There is not one soldier in the jungle whose mind is not irrevocably warped by the ravages of war.
Some critics complain that the character development in the story is weak and there is no plot. J.P. Stern of U S News and World Report states that “The Central Plot tension – the battle for a young private’s soul between a “good” sergeant who has retained humanity and a “bad” sergeant who has become a killing machine is not very tense.” However, the introduction of the entire cast in the film is what sets the film apart from others like it. There are no real heroes in this movie and no real villains. There is just a group of frightened men fighting for survival in their own ways and counting the days until they can leave the country.
Nearly the entire film is set in a very thick jungle with tall grass and a beautiful landscape. All of the soldiers are forced to walk through thick jungle with biting insects, and hidden trip wires. The camera is always moving to give a sense of confusion and disorientation. Shots of wounded men screaming and constant gunfire makes you feel like you are in the middle of it all. The violence and paranoia that plagued the soldiers are constantly evident.”Complaints about the violent nature of his work elicit from Stone what might be called the journalist’s defense that’s just the way it is. (Ansen 56) In order to accurately tell the story Stone could pull no punches.
Platoon was instantly acclaimed upon it’s release as the first truly authentic look at Vietnam since the end of the war. It was nominated for many academy awards including, best picture, best film editing, best sound, best director, best cinematography, best writing, and best supporting actor. The film won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best film editing, best sound, and best director. Richard Corliss of Time Magazine states that “Stone’s film is a document written in blood that after almost 20 years refuses to dry.” Yet behind all of the prestige and awards it was given, Platoon holds an underlining message. “Charlie Sheen is America in its innocence, and the jungle is the dark, confused mystery that the war remains for us twenty years later” (Evans 78). Platoon is more than just a gory war movie; it is a realistic look at world that we would never want to experience.
1. Ansen, David. “A Ferocious Vietnam Frenzy” Newsweek 5 Jan. 1987: 57.
2. Corliss, Richard “Platoon” Time Magazine 26 Jan. 1987:54-61.
3. Kauffmann, Stanley. “An American Tragedy” The New Republic 19 Jan. 1987: 24-25.
4. Schuers, Fred. “Soldier’s Story” Rolling Stone 29 Jan. 1987: 22+.
5. Stern, J.P.. “Parable in the Jungle” U S News and World Report 2 March 1987: 78.