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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Platoon (1986)



Reviews and Comments

Platoon is dedicated to the soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War. If I had fought in the Vietnam War, I would not want this film dedicated to me. The majority of the soldiers here are portrayed as unskilled, bloodthirsty, macho potheads, and while I can believe that this is an accurate description of some of the soldiers that fought in Vietnam, I find it hard to believe there wasn't anyone else. These soldiers aren't trained except by experience, don't work as a team, and have as little regard for each other as the enemy.

Purportedly, Platoon is based on Oliver Stone's personal experiences in the Vietnam War, but it's apparent that these perceptions are skewed by his desire to make an anti-war film. It is certainly that. The film is rife with smug little zingers like, "We did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves," and, "They say if you're gonna get killed in the Nam, it's better to get it in the first few weeks, the logic being, you don't suffer that much." These platitudes would be fine if the movie earned them, but it does not. It tries, but because the depiction of the soldiers is skewed, it feels too manipulative and untrustworthy.

Once one gets around the soapbox and accepts the reality that the movie presents, however, Platoon is an intense drama and a solid character study. Its depiction of war was revolutionary in its day, portraying battle as grimy and gritty and confused. We're never quite sure what's going on, and the characters don't seem to either.

In times of war, morals that normally apply go out the window -- in war, killing is not only permissible but required -- and yet there is still an important moral code. How do people who have lived their entire lives abiding by an established moral code handle the necessary shift to another moral code that is no less strict yet mandates breaking the old one in the most severe of ways? Platoon shows what happens to some who cannot handle the shift, can't distinguish between necessary and wanton violence. I disagree that there is no one, or even a minority, of soldiers who cannot handle this -- even the "good guys" in Platoon ultimately lose sight of themselves -- but I can believe there will inevitably be some. I certainly believe that no matter how moral or upstanding we consider ourselves, there can always arise a situation that will tempt us to commit acts we would normally find unconscionable. Maybe if the film had dwelt more upon this angle, I would have found its depiction of reality and its moral commentary. As it is, I still find the latter aspect (minus the anti-war platitudes) compelling.