The first casualty of war is innocence.
Charlie Taylor (Charlie Sheen) is a green, fresh to arrive recruit in Vietnam. Platoon follows Taylor and his company as they cope with the hardships of war, and the film brings back the reality of what went on over there to the big screen for the first time since Apocalypse Now (1979).
The unit breaks into two contrasting camps: one with Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger), who believes in total war and winning at any cost, and Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe), who is battle-tested but gracious in contrast to Barnes. Each side as plenty of support, and they battle over, as Taylor puts it, “for possession of my soul.”
As with Attack!, Platoon features a whole slew of familiar faces (Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Keith David, Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley, Tony Todd, Mark Moses), many of which were at the beginning of their careers.
A couple of things added to the authenticity of this film. Oliver Stone’s experience in Vietnam, woven throughout the characters Taylor encounters, and the preparation the actors went through in making this film. They trained for two weeks before filming began, building camaraderie as a unit, digging foxholes, encountering “night attacks” to get used to the special effects that would be used. The familiarity these actors had with their weapons made the actions and emotion seem genuine.
The acting in this film is top-notch. The characters evoke strong emotions in the audience: you either really like or really hate what a person says or does. I found myself completely disgusted with some of the men in the Barnes camp as they abused and mistreated both Vietnamese peasants and their fellow soldiers. An interesting commentary on this came from Taylor as he was airlifted out at the end of the film. He describes that the Vietnamese weren’t the enemy, instead we were out own enemy. There is a lot of killing, granted, but more of it being American killing American than one would expect.
I believe I’ve said it before, but Willem Dafoe is probably one of my favorite actors. This film is one of the reasons for that opinion. He is a strong, committed character whose performance I felt stood above all the others. I also found it interesting that he never wear a helmet. Ever. Tom Berenger, though I don’t agree with his characters outlook and way of carrying himself, brings that type of soldier to life and it fully committed to his character.
Charlie Sheen does very well in this movie as well. The contrast and how quickly his idealized or unaware outlook at the beginning of the film is quickly shredded and almost gone by the end of the film. He quickly loses the label of ‘new meat’ and becomes one of the guys. His judgement and discernment remain, though, which is refreshing and relieving.
It’s interesting seeing John C. McGinley in a role like this after watching him at Dr. Cox on Scrubs, but hey that might just be me.
Platoon is considered one of the best films of the 1980s, it won the Best Picture Oscar in 1987. It’s authenticity and superb acting both contribute largely to its success. It’s one I enjoyed, and will probably watch a couple more times sometime in the future.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.