In the late 1960’s, Chris Taylor (played by Charlie Sheen) arrives in Vietnam – fresh-faced, keen and naiive. He’s already one of a minority – he’s dropped out of college and volunteered for the Army. He joins his Platoon – lead by Sergeant Barnes (by Tom Berenger), a worldly-wise career soldier with facial scars to prove he’s experienced violence before – and Sergeant Elias (by Willem Dafoe), the complete opposite to Barnes, he manages to keep a spiritual calm despite the high stress jungle environment and his doubts about the war. Chris’ platoon buddies help him to familiarise with the ways of jungle warfare – the longer he’s here, the more he learns and the higher he’s valued by his platoon. Life in Vietnam for these soldiers is frightening and punctuated by incessant bugs, damp, exhaustion, rations, drugs and marking off a mental calendar until leaving again for home. Rainforest encounters with the enemy are difficult, chaotic and terrifying – and when violence erupts between highly stressed soldiers and Vietnamese villagers, things can get nasty very quickly. As the weeks pass, Chris becomes less and less confident in his quest and more and more distant from his home and much loved Grandma. His letters home are his journal – his thoughts, once moral and positive, become doubtful and sceptical. Who’s the real enemy here? … is this really what he signed up for?
This is a graphic war movie and it’s good. If you want a ground-level view of Army life for a jungle solider in the Vietnam War, this is probably a great place to start. The day to day boredom and terror of this life is depicted well by Oliver Stone – the viewer can feel the humidity, sweat, grime and horror that is experienced by these soldiers. Charlie Sheen is marvellous as Chris Taylor, it’s perhaps his best ever performance. Tom Berenger is excellent as the unpredictable and terrifying Platoon Sergeant Barnes – he was awarded Best Support Actor by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for this performance and nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar). Oliver Stone’s directorship earned him awards from the Hollywood Foreign Press, Directors Guild of America, Independent Spirit Awards, BAFTA, Berlin International Film Festival and Academy (Oscar). Willem Dafoe’s portrayal as Elias is a great counterpoint to the irrational Barnes and he was nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) for this. The Platoon features several actors who went on to do marvellous work after this – Forest Whitaker, Keith David, Kevin Dillon, John C. McGinley and a very young Johnny Depp. The cinematography is great (it won an Independent Spirit Award and was nominated for an Academy Award [Oscar]) and the editing and sound are Academy Award winners too. It’s a good war movie.
Made in 1986. Directed by Oliver Stone.