Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Cast: Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, Frederic Forrest, Sam Bottoms, Albert Hall, Dennis Hopper, G.D. Spradlin, Scott Glenn
Genre: War, Drama
Age Rating: 15/R
Running Time: 153 Minutes
There are many classics on my watch list which I have shamefully never witnessed when they come up in conversation, but I can now say that I have seen one of the most famous of them all!
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the film legend who also brought us THE GODFATHER trilogy around the same decade, APOCALYPSE NOW tells us the story of Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), a troubled and redundant military man, who is finally required and sent on a dangerous mission, in 1970, during the Vietnam War, into terrifying Cambodia, to assassinate Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a renegade who has gone completely mad and is now ruling a local tribe as their god. With a group of patriotic and irrational comrades behind him, Willard sets off on a dangerous, hallucinatory boat trip which will test his will and psychological strength, and leave us as the audience unsure of whom to side with throughout.
Going into this film, I heard nothing but praise for it. As I witnessed the opening, almost silent sequence, where we realise what the Vietnam War must have done to the mental stability of a lot of veterans, I could immediately understand why this film goes down as an absolute classic. As you get to know Martin Sheen as the young and handsome Captain Willard, you immediately draw parallels between him and his son’s (Charlie Sheen) performance in PLATOON (1986), and I have to say it is the first time that I have actually seen and understood these two as father and son before. I cannot decide if I am on Willard’s side or not, and unfortunately due to the sheer relentless brutality of these men throughout this film, I struggled to empathise with them at any point, especially Laurence Fisbhurne’s character.
On reflection however, I can look at their brutality from another angle and see them as victims of the war, rather than labelling them as the savage beasts that I thought they were yesterday. This has automatically enhanced the film for me, as yesterday I finished it a little bit underwhelmed, and thinking to myself “Why give me characters that I can’t sympathise or empathise with?” Yet, there is one thing I cannot deny, this film is a spectacle to witness! Backed by a memorable soundtrack, it gives us a full-blown access to what life may well have been like during the horrific War of Vietnam for both American and Vietnamese soldiers and civilians, and the education we are given on Vietnam itself, is credit to Coppola and the brilliant way that this film is shot. In fact, considering that this film was produced in 1979, even though it has been remastered and supplied to fans in Blu-Ray quality, it is light years ahead of its time. It not only still holds up with 21st century first-time viewers, but it looks every bit as good as the likes of LONE SURVIVOR and AMERICAN SNIPER, which have been produced in the last couple of years.
Overall, APOCALYPSE NOW, is a brutal and chilling tale of the Vietnam War, which has a collection of Hollywood legends who all put in career-defining performances. Their characters, although hard to side with, are a perfect representation of what a World War can do to the mind of a soldier, and for that reason it is a timeless classic which will go on to be loved for years to come. Unfortunately, I believe that because I have been brought up with so many war films in the 90s and 21st Century, that unlike the majority, this film did not amaze me as much as I was hoping it would have. It is an outstanding story and film nonetheless, and I am sure that if it was perhaps the first ever War film I had seen when all of these films surrounding the Vietnam War seemed to be on an influx of Hollywood, it would be THE film that I compare all War films against. Unfortunately, it was not, and as a result I have struggled to come away with the obsession over this film that I wanted to and that I am sure a lot of elder film-lovers out there have.
“The Horror… The Horror…”
Recommendation: A timeless classic which deserves to be bought on Blu-Ray and maybe even Steelbook. For 1st time viewing watch the original version rather than the ‘Redux’ version which is probably 50 minutes longer than you need with this film.