Movie #122: Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Arliss Howard, Vincent D-Onofrio, Adam Baldwin

Academy Award Nominations (1988):

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, Gustav Hasford

FullMetal Jacket

Full Metal Jacket follows Private J.T. “Joker” Davis (Modine) from his Marine Corps training on Parris Island, South Carolina through his time as a combat correspondent for Stars and Stripes in Vietnam.

This is one of the definitive movies about the Vietnam War.  I think what sets Full Metal Jacket apart from other movies on the same topic is the grand scope of what life was like for a soldier in this war.  Other films, such as Platoon and Apocalypse Now, launch straight into combat and don’t take the time to show the path these soldiers take to get to that war.

Full Metal Jacket is primarily known for roughly the first 45-50 minutes where Joker, along with Private Cowboy (Howard), Leonard “Gomer Pyle” Lawrence (D’Onofrio) and the rest of the platoon take part in eight weeks of recruit training.  A large part of the training focuses on Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (Emrey) and his attempt to whip Lawrence into fighting shape by any means necessary.

With his experience as a Marine Corps Drill Instructor during the Vietnam War, Emrey had originally been brought in as a consultant for that part of the film.  He quickly demonstrated a more competent and authentic portrayal compared to the actor who was originally playing the role.

Kubrick does a great job at going into the details and giving an authentic look at the emotional toll that intense training and circumstances of war has on each type of soldier.  It was especially hard for me to see the deterioration of Lawrence as he was repeatedly chastised both by Hartman and his platoon.  The nighttime beating he took was one of the roughest of the movie, and I really lost a lot of respect for Cowboy’s character at that point.

Though the actual war part of the film is less memorable, it is still very well done.  I’ve read that Animal Mother (Baldwin) represents what Lawrence would have been like had he made it to the war.  He has his one track mind and has truly become a killing machine.  Baldwin has said that he has come to appreciate the patience Kubrick had in making the best movie possible.

Though there is no perfect film, and liberties are taken when dealing with historical events, Full Metal Jacket humanizes and personalizes the Vietnam War in a way that sets it apart from other war movies.  I’ve seen this movie twice, and I don’t feel like I need to see it again.  It’s great, but it’s not one that needs to be seen over and over again.  I haven’t seen too many Kubrick movies, but this film confirms why he has the reputation as one of the great directors.  His time and attention to detail are very apparent.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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