US, 1986, 120 minutes, Colour.
Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, John C.McGinley, Keith David, Johnny Depp.
Directed by Oliver Stone.
Platoon was the Oscar-winner for Best Film of 1986. The film also won Oscars for screenplay and direction for Oliver Stone (Midnight Express, Wall Street, Talk Radio, Born on the Fourth of July)
The film was based on Stone's own experience in Vietnam in the late 60s. It took him over ten years to develop the project and get the finance. Filmed in the Philippines, it is a vivid re-creation of a small part of the war, a focus on a platoon in 1967-68, their isolation, their interactions, the wars amongst themselves, racism, differences in class - but the common enemy and the violence of war. The film is seen through the eyes of Charlie Sheen's character, Chris Taylor, a volunteer who is partly disillusioned, has to grow up during his term in Vietnam. He has two father-figures, the evil father-figure, the scarred Tom Berenger and the good father-figure, the earnest Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe). Both actors received supporting actor nominations for Oscars.
The film immerses its audience in the feelings of war in Vietnam, not giving a wider view of the war than that seen by the men themselves. In 1986-87, further films about Vietnam were released: Lionel Chetwyn's Hanoi Hilton, about the prisoners of war, Hamburger Hill about the taking of one hill in Vietnam, Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket as well as the anthology of letters home from Vietnam, Dear America.
1. The impact of the film? Audience response, intellectual, emotional? The awards? A mid-'80s American perspective on the Vietnam war?
2. The work of Oliver Stone as screenwriter, director, his experiences in Vietnam, the years of writing, the authenticity of the screenplay, a memoir, conscience, catharsis?
3. The use of Philippine locations, the bases, the Jungles and the forests, the villages, the seasons, the weather? Special effects and stunt work? Musical score; stringed melodies?
4. The quotation from the Book of Ecclesiastes? The title, the focus on the small group, audiences identifying with the group and being immersed in their war? The small range of characters, situations, emotions, decisions? Not sharing a broader picture of strategies of the war?
5. The audience moving in and out with Chris Taylor, seeing the war, through his eyes, the eyes of a volunteer? The plane coming in, the first sights, what seen, whom seen? The body bag? Knowing that by the end of his term he could be like that? The audience sharing his experience of the war, agreeing with his perceptions, not? The shock of the war, bewilderment, learning?
6. The progress of the war in Vietnam in '67-68? American attitudes? The draft, volunteers? Black and white, the poor men drafted? The range of public opinion, changing public opinion? Government attitudes and the soldiers' attitudes towards the government? Military command? The presuppositions: the Viet Cong as Gooks, the enemy, 'kicking ass'? The superiority of the Americans over the Asians? The reality of the Jungles and their inability to move and manoeuvre? Their anger? Americans losing a war? Change of attitude?
7. The technique of the voiceover, Chris's letters to Grandma? Communication, lack of communication with his parents? His grandparents? The memories of World War Two and other wars? American patriotism and the changes?
8. Chris Taylor: his age, dropping out of college, the volunteer, his motivations? The impact of his arrival? Naive, very American? His watching? The background of his training? His place in the platoon, relating with each of the men, the jobs, the dirty duties? Patrols and dangers? On the watch, the danger of sleeping, being paralysed with fear? The attack, weapons? Barnes and his severe attitudes, savagery? Elias and wanting to be the authentic soldier, doing the right thing? Chris seeing them as his two fathers? His talking, beginning to understand the Vietnam experience? The R and R centre, music, cards, drugs? The men bombing out of reality? The effect of the drugs on him? In action, his fainting? Going to the village, the massacre in the village, Barnes attitude, the contrast with Elias? The build-up to his own angers? Shooting the feet? Barnes and his savagery with Elias, killing him? The build-up to the confrontation, with Barnes and Chris killing him? His surviving the massacre? At the end, not knowing what had happened to him, the change? The effect of the war, motivations, audience judgment on Chris, on the Americans in Vietnam?
9. Elias: his age, position, watching over the men, his skills in war, his bombing out in R and R, the drugs? Friendship, efficiency with the job, his continually confronting Barnes, orders, differences of opinion? The taking of the village, the killings, the burning? The hatred of Barnes? The mission, his courage going alone, Barnes killing him in cold blood? His continuing to run, his desperate final image with his arms upraised (Christ-figure imagery)?
10. Barnes, his experience, the scar, skills, orders, tough, cards and recreation, the men who supported him, out on missions, his callousness in the village, the killings? The confrontation with Elias, the clashes, hating him? His killing him? The lies to Chris? The men offering to support him? The
confrontation with Chris, his defying him? His death?
11. The superior officers, young, trying to be one of the boys, their judgments and strategies, their fears, final disillusionment?
12. The range of members of the platoon: the southerners, vicious attitudes, the poor, the blacks and their opportunities, criticisms of authorities sending then to war? Ideas, jobs? The racism emerging? Fighting amongst themselves? The various members and the way that they were sketched, audiences getting to know them, being wounded and killed in war? The drama of the deaths?
13. The Viet Cong, their appearance, ability to hide, the attacks, racist attitudes on both sides, the Americans thinking they were superior, the skirmishes, the massacres in the villages, the civilians killed, the final brutal attack?
The village, the weapons, people, their lifestyle, the shooting, the blood lust, the shock for the men, the burning of the village, the catharsis of violence and conscience and aftermath?
14. The jungle and its isolation, mud and rain, food, fears, the bombardments?
15. A picture of fighting, a picture of war, anti-war? 'The desirability of peace?
16. The return to base, Chris surviving, his attitudes, the body bags, the bulldozing of the bodies? A picture of 20th century America at war?