Army Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is sent into Cambodia during the Vietnam War to assassinate a rogue Green Beret Colonol Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who has set himself up as a god to a local tribe. The closer he gets to his target, Willard gains new perspective and the mental challenges of war make him into a new man.
Francis Ford Coppola deserves the accolades and reputation as one of the great filmmakers. Something as simple as the transition from a helicopter sounds to a fan at the beginning of the movie integrates the transitions almost seamlessly. The combination of visual and sound effects illustrates his attention to detail and cinematic greatness.
He also does a good job of communicating to the audience the great weight and moral dilemma Vietnam posed to those who fought it. This movie was made 4 years after the end of the Vietnam War, so it was still very fresh in the country’s mind. When Laurence Fishburne’s character is killed, he had been listening to a tape his mother recorded for him. Listening to her speak while the men are being shot at was a great contrast of the innocence back home and the horrors of war.
There are so many good performances in this film. Martin Sheen, who looks a lot like his son Emilio Estevez doing a film his other son Charlie Sheen would be doing, leads and narrates the film very well. His character is no rookie when it comes to war, but even encountering Colonol Kurtz’s creation drastically changed his outlook on war and the military. Robert Duvall steals the great one-liners from the film (‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’), and his gun ho attitude helped him land a Best Supporting Actor nomination. This was Laurence Fishburne’s first major film roles, and honestly I didn’t recognize him even though I knew it was him.
Marlon Brando does great in his role. It’s also good how Coppola doesn’t have him entirely in the light, especially when he’s talking about his philosophy. I felt like he had Don Corleone weight in what he was saying. It’s one of those roles I really don’t see anyone else being able to fill.
As I watched Dennis Hopper play the photographer in Kurtz’s village, it sounded like a more dramatic character than Billy in Easy Rider. All he needed was the hippy jacket and motorcycle. I found him more irritating than anything else, but reflective of the times. Though they had minor roles, Harrison Ford and Scott Glenn also contributed nicely.
The ending of the film, as Willard and one of his men leave the village, it is left to the imagination as to what they’d do next. Would Willard go and set himself up as a god elsewhere, or how would he integrate back into regular society?
I enjoyed Apocalypse Now more than I expected to. It communicates the realities of the war and the tole it took on those who fought it. Though I probably won’t watch this movie again, it’s good to see. I have enjoyed the last few war movies I’ve watched, and I think it’s because of the weight and careful execution the directors have had in each of the movies.
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.