59. Platoon (1987)

Title: Platoon

Release Date: 19 December, 1986

Oscar Ceremony: 30 March, 1987

Director: Oliver Stone

Starring: Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe


Nominees: Children of a Lesser God, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Mission, A Room with a View


“Somebody once wrote, “Hell is the impossibility of reason.” That’s what this place feels like. Hell.” – Chris Taylor

Platoon is actually the second Vietnam war film to win Best Picture, the first being Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter. There’s also another major Vietnam war classic that tackles more or less the same issues, but that never made it past the Best Picture nominee list: Apocalypse Now. Interestingly enough, Martin Sheen is the star of Apocalypse Now, and here we are seven years later with his son, Charlie Sheen, taking on the lead role in Platoon. It seems that undergoing stressful and traumatic filming experiences to portray young Vietnam war rookies runs in the family.

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It’s often easy to forget that before he was an HIV-positive controversial comedian ranting about everyone and causing a whole lot of trouble while still seemingly #winning with his #tigerblood, Charlie Sheen was a prolific rising young star. I’ve always liked him and I personally think that Two and a Half Men was a disaster following his departure, but that’s a whole other story. Back to Platoon, Sheen plays Chris Taylor, a young man who drops out of college to volunteer as a soldier in the Vietnam War, because his father and grandfather were also war veterans and it’s just the right thing to do. Like most other war films, Platoon does not have a clearly outlined traditional plot; it simply aims at portraying different types of army personalities through the eyes of an innocent rookie as they all face the horrors of war. The film’s tagline says it best: “The first casualty of war is innocence.”

Director Oliver Stone became the first actual Vietnam veteran to direct a major motion picture about the Vietnam War. A lot of events portrayed in the film were inspired by his real-life experiences, which already makes Platoon more authentic than the misleading Russian-roulette-obsessed The Deer Hunter. I also think that out of the three movies I mentionned, Platoon is certainly the most emotionally striking. Many have called it one of the most accurate depictions of the Vietnam war, and while I don’t know very much about that area, I certainly believe it. That’s what you get when a writer and director pours his PTSD into an onscreen work of art.

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If you know me and if you’ve been following my blog, you know I’m not the most ardent fan of war movies. While I understand the importance of denouncing war and portraying its atrocities, I rarely understand what the soldiers portrayed in these movies are out to do. Every film seems to be about conflicted heroes and power-obsessed men on a journey that leads to nothing but their death or their permanent emotional scarring. Platoon tries particularly hard to spoon-feed us the emotional impact of war, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, it makes the viewing experience very stressful because we feel like we are there with the men. I felt tense and uneasy, so it’s safe to say that something definitely struck a chord there. On the other hand, the pathos is sometimes so obvious that it runs the risk of becoming too cheesy, thus making it harder to take the film seriously.

Speaking of cheesy…

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Pictured above is Ben Stiller in one of my favourite comedies of all time: Tropic Thunder. I have to say that the more I watch films about the Vietnam War, the more I want to curl up on my couch and turn on Tropic Thunder. If you’re not familiar with this masterpiece, it’s essentially a satire on war films and the general Hollywood movie industry. After watching Platoon, I couldn’t help but notice how much it obviously influenced the writers of Tropic Thunder, and for that I would like to thank Oliver Stone from the bottom of my heart. I don’t want to spend too much time comparing the two films since I don’t want to steal any of Platoon‘s thunder (pun intended), but here is a reminder of one of Platoon‘s most iconic scenes:

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Perhaps my experience with modern day parodies has impacted my ability to genuinely appreciate classic war films. Then again, perhaps these war films are caricatures in themselves. What will it take to make people realize that war is ridiculous? Platoon seems to imply that its audience has become desensitized with the concept war and is deeply in need of a painfully obvious reminder that nothing good can come of it. Overall, it wastes less time on elaborate aesthetics and acting, and focuses more on generating that gut-wrenching feeling that makes us sick to our stomachs. It’s Stone’s way of showing the world what he’s gone through, and that millions of other people out there are still suffering from the casualties.

I still can’t say that I really loved this movie, but I am not afraid to say that I respect it. It was only two hours long and it didn’t try to be overly pretentious like some of its predecessors. That’s good enough for me.

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