Directed By: Oliver Stone
Produced by: John Daly
Written By: Oliver Stone
Music by: Georges Delerue
Cinematography by: Robert Richardson
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Running Time: 120 Minutes
The text below is part of a series of articles originally published May 25th – June 6, 1999.
Platoon is the first of two Vietnam movies to make my top 10 list, you can probably guess the other but you’ll have to wait a few days to find out. Oliver Stone wrote and directed this semi-autobiographical, sobering tale of the Vietnam “conflict,” where the first casualty of war is innocence. There have been many movies made with Vietnam as the backdrop, but few have captured this theme as well as Platoon.
The story follows the footsteps of a new recruit named Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) who steps off a military transport with a pressed uniform, a sparkle in his eye, and a gung-ho attitude that he’s going to change the war. As he debarks he sees a group of veteran soldiers on the airfield. He looks into their haunted and haggard eyes and starts to ponder whether he’s made the right choice.
Chris, an idealistic youth, dropped out of college, joined the Army, and volunteered for Vietnam. He quickly regrets his decision, as most in real life who made the same choice did. The story comes full circle at the coda with Chris stepping back onto a transport after his tour of duty is completed. Gone is the pressed uniform and youthful outlook . . . replaced by stoic cynicism and the haunting look of a war torn soul. The same emotions he saw in the eyes of the soldiers when he first arrive in Vietnam 12 months before.
During his tour Chris is placed in a platoon that is lead by Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger), a mean, hard-edged NCO who deals with the war by being the most efficient killing machine possible; and by Sgt. Elias (Willem Defoe), an intelligent, caring NCO who escapes the carnage through a haze of drugs. Eventually a rift appears between the two leaders, dividing the platoon. Chris must quickly choose sides in order to survive.
This is, of course, a very violent film . . . how can you portray the horrors of war and the loss of innocence without showing the violence that results from said war? In the end, no one wins the internal conflict within the platoon. Perhaps the only winner is Chris because he survives, and on an individual basis that’s the first goal of war . . surviving. But Chris is forever changed.
This is arguably one of Charlie Sheen’s best performances in a career that has taken a serious (self prescribed) beating lately. Following Platoon, he was in Wall Street (1987) were he put in another solid performance opposite Michael Douglas.
Platoon was nominated for eight Academy Awards, and eventually won for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing. This movie is a must see as a lesson of the Vietnam conflict, and a testimony to the horrors that our soldiers endured in that seemingly pointless war.
Note: I’m revisiting and re-posting many older articles (almost 200) I’ve written (or contributed to) over the years, either for my own purposes or as contributions to other sites now long digitally decayed and dormant. These reviews/articles will appear in their nearly raw, unaltered form, with a few updated thoughts at the beginning of each.