Wednesday, March 9, 2016

AFI Top 100, #28: "Apocalypse Now" (1979)

Movie Stats:
Released 1979 (France)
American, in English (some Vietnamese, both translated and not; also, I believe the extended version contains French but that’s not the version I watched for this review)
Director - Francis Ford Coppola
Stars - Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando

Plot Summary:
During the Vietnam War, Army Captain Benjamin Willard (Sheen) is given a special assignment, to seek out and exterminate Colonel Walter Kurtz (Brando), who’s gone insane in the jungle of Cambodia.

Extreme violence; gore; lots of blue language, including racial slurs; brief male nudity (butt only); drug use.

Bad Stuff:
Sometimes it feels like it’s being weird just to be weird.

Holy crap, Dennis Hopper’s character, a very 60s-dude, Dennis Hopper-y photojournalist who worships Colonel Kurtz, is annoying as all get out. Good thing he’s in very little of the film.

Some of the music choices are questionable. There are a few songs that are spot on (“The End” by The Doors, “The Ride of the Valkyries” by Wagner). And then there’s a bunch of music where I thought to myself, “What's up with this late 70s BS?”

Good Stuff:
It does an excellent job of showcasing both the horror (<—See what I did there?) and the absurdity of war. I don’t think it’s too difficult to show how horrible war is, but showing the absurdity is more nuanced. One of my favorite scenes is when Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall), who most people remember for his “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” line, obsessed with surfing, tells soldier Lance Johnson (Sam Bottoms), a semi-famous American surfer, to go out and surf while they’re still under heavy fire. Lance replies, “What?” And it could be played that Lance simply hadn’t heard him, but that’s not what I got out of it. To me, that one word conveyed, “Are you insane?”

It’s the kind of movie that will find a way to punch nearly every viewer in the gut. For me, that gut-punch moment is the thing with the puppy, more specifically, how the American soldiers end up with the puppy. I’d completely forgotten about it. Upon this viewing, I burst into tears.

My husband rather vociferously hates Brando’s performance in this (and hates the movie in general), but I couldn’t disagree more. I think he’s absolutely mesmerizing. He commands every last second of the little screen time he has.

The Verdict:
It’s a good film. Personally, I don’t think it’s as great as people make it out to be. It’s very weird, and it’s kind of slow. For a war movie, there’s not a ton of action, so I think that’s a bit unusual. There are definitely other movies about the Vietnam War that I like better (*cough* Platoon *cough*). But it’s still a good film. I don’t think there’s a bad actor in the bunch, the writing is solid, especially the dialogue, and I have only positive things to say about the cinematography and editing. I also think that it’s an important film, the kind that helps to define a generation (i.e. the Baby Boomers). A definite must-see-at-least-once-in-your-life movie.

I give it 4 stars.


Patricia said...

Guess what? I haven't seen it!

This is one of those movies I've slotted in to the "boy movie" category and thus have not gotten around to seeing it because 1)Violence and I aren't very good friends and 2)I think if there were more women's views of films floating around this movie would fall greatly in esteem. So I never prioritize watching it. Because you know what? There are a lot of films I value as a female that guys will never get around to watching. So no Apocalypse Now for me.

Patricia said...

Plus, even the little bit you said about the puppy leads me to believe I would not be able to watch this film.

balyien said...

If it helps, the puppy doesn't die, at least not that we're ever shown. The tragedy that leads to the Americans ending up with the puppy is what got me. I think you can get away with not seeing this one. Lots of better movies about war out there. I think the best one I've seen from the female perspective is "Testament of Youth." You know, if you feel like bawling your eyes out.