Retired Old West gunslinger William Munny (Clint Eastwood) reluctantly takes on one last job, with the help of his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) and a young man, The "Schofield Kid" (Jaimz Woolvett).
Chris Taylor is a young, naive American who gives up college and volunteers for combat in Vietnam. Upon arrival, he quickly discovers that his presence is quite nonessential, and is considered insignificant to the other soldiers, as he has not fought for as long as the rest of them and felt the effects of combat. Chris has two non-commissioned officers, the ill-tempered and indestructible Staff Sergeant Robert Barnes and the more pleasant and cooperative Sergeant Elias Grodin. A line is drawn between the two NCOs and a number of men in the platoon when an illegal killing occurs during a village raid. As the war continues, Chris himself draws towards psychological meltdown. And as he struggles for survival, he soon realizes he is fighting two battles, the conflict with the enemy and the conflict between the men within his platoon.Written by
Ever since Steven Spielberg wowed the cinematic world and changed the aesthetic of the war movie forever with the exceptional opening 25 minutes of 1998's Saving Private Ryan - the film went downhill from there - audiences have come to expect the same grainy camera-work and ultra-realism of Spielberg's breathtaking vision whenever a battle is depicted. Anything else would be 'unrealistic', and many movies dated horribly almost overnight as a result. While Oliver Stone's Platoon, which was once considered difficult to watch due to its unflinching depiction of the insanity of war, may not seem quite as brutal as it used to, it possesses one thing that no war other movie can boast - the guiding hand of a veteran.
Stone did a tour in Vietnam which ended in 1968, changing the future writer/director forever. Starting out life as a screenplay focusing on a soldier's experiences both before and during the war which had Jim Morrison touted for the lead, it evolved into a movie focused solely on a young volunteer's time spent in the sweaty, eternally damp jungle. Charlie Sheen's Chris Taylor is an obvious stand-in for Stone, and he arrives fresh-faced and eager to fight for his country. By the end, he is dazed and confused, and angry at the country who would send such "bottom of the barrel" men - invisible in society - into a world of such horror and meaningless bloodshed. It's an experience that moulded Stone into the one of the most outspoken voices in cinema.
The casting of the two sergeants vying for Chris' soul is a stroke of genius. The platoon is made up of two main groups - the 'juicers', a collection of beer-swilling meat-heads seemingly intent on violence at every opportunity, and the 'heads', a more laid-back and weary bunch who are happiest when getting high and having a singalong. At the head of the juicers is Sgt. Barnes, played by Tom Berenger, an actor known for his heart-throb leading-man roles but here cast as a dead-eyed, heavily scarred brute. While Willem Dafoe, who was and still is known for his crazy-eyed villainous roles, plays the wiser, gentler leader of the heads, an all-round good guy battling his own demons. By toying with expectations, Stone adds layers to their characters, and they both received Best Actor nominations for their efforts.
Yet what makes Platoon truly stand out 30 years after its release is the way Stone manages to transport the audience to that terrible place. It's teeming with dangers at every turn, be it the ants, the snakes or the Viet Cong better equipped for the harsh surroundings, the most frightening moment is when they fall asleep. And even when they awake, there's something moving in the shadows. The film never allows you to ever be at ease, despite the fun to be had with spotting the many famous faces dotted throughout the supporting cast. There are flaws, especially with some overacting from some of the supporting cast - in particular John C. McGinley - and Chris' unnecessary, rambling narration, but the movie packs such a punch that it's easy to forget these quibbles. It's a true insight into the mind of a grunt and how combat can have a lasting, eye-opening effect on those on the ground, and undoubtedly one of the most important war pictures ever to come out of the US.
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