Saturday, January 28, 2012

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Full Metal Jacket (1987) ★★★★★ 5/5

This is the first time watching this movie for me and upon reading over the case to the movie I found myself immediately resistant to it. Not because of the content involving the Vietnam War, but because of one of the actors starring in the film. Vincent D'Onofrio, best known for his role as Detective Goren on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. In my opinion he is one of the worst actors to ever appear on television. I cringe with every line he delivers and he annoys me so greatly that I can not even watch 5 minutes of the show. Seeing him as a main actor in this film immediately made it a challenge for me to even put in the DVD player.

I love the opening of the film. The Marine recruits are getting their heads shaved as Johnnie Wright's "Hello Vietnam" plays in the background. I love it when a film opens with a song that is reflective of the time being addressed. I think this type of opening establishes the time, setting and mood of a film better then any other introduction. Immediately, we are thrown into the training of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman's (R. Lee Ermey) recruits. Private Leonard Lawrence (D'Onofrio) is immediately singles out by Hartman and given the nickname Gomer Pyle. He is driven harder and treated more cruelly then any of the other recruits. Private James T. "Joker" Davis (Matthew Modine) is assigned to mentor and train Lawrence. Lawrence seems to improve in his military skills, however he gets caught with a jelly doughnut in his footlocker. Enraged by this, Hartman decides to punish every member of his platoon whenever Lawrence makes a mistake. As retaliation, the platoon beats Lawrence with bars of soaps wrapped in their pillow cases one night. Lawrence noticeably changes. He becomes isolated. He doesn't recite chants. He talks to his gun like it's a friend. Davis becomes worried. Before you know it, Lawrence snaps. In a suicide murder, D'Onofrio delivers an amazing performance.

In his short time on scree, D'Onofrio manages to completely defy everything I had once thought of him. His character goes through such amazing transformation. From a giddy, insecure private who clearly doesn't belong and raises empathy from the viewer to a growling, menacing murder. The performance is movie gold. Sadly, it does not make me like anything about his performance on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, but now I may at least be able to acknowledge that his acting is not reflective of his abilities, more more so of a poorly written character.

Following the death of Lawrence, we are taken directly into Vietnam where Joker is now a Corporal. He has become a journalist of sorts and travels through the country gathering stories. Private Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) is assigned to assist Joker and travels with him as a photographer. The two come across the realities of the war. Joker takes interest in the slaughter of civilians. Footage of war is shot. Commentaries by the soldiers are recorded. Journalism soon turns into combat and the platoon finds themselves ambushed by a single sniper who begins to take the men out one by one. After nearly killing Joker, the sniper is shot, but not killed. The surviving members of the platoon gather round and Joker kills her to put an end to her suffering. At that moment, he no longer has any insecurity about his existence as a Marine. The film ends with the army marching onward singing the theme song to "The Micky Mouse Club."

Initially I had not seen this movie because it was a war movie. I have nothing against the visuals or war movies. I had always had the preconceived notion that there was little difference from one war movie to the other. Two sides fight, they cope with their loses and celebrate their wins. How much different could they be from one film to the other with the exception of the year it took place and the color of the uniform. This movie is much more then that. While it takes place during a war, it goes beyond the war. The film portrays the mindset of American soldiers in one of the most controversial wars in American history. The views of the soldiers further prove that the men serving there didn't have any idea what they were fighting for other then to win. It also serves as a character analysis of Joker. He conveys the dual nature of man through his dress and his actions. He wears a peace button while his helmet reads "Born to Kill." He is there to fight, yet is clearly disgusted by death. In the scene, when Joker kills the sniper, he stares at her as "Born to Kill" prominently fills the screen. It is a deep message. Is that the moment for which he was born? Was that the kill he was born for?

Oh, let's not forget that this film also gave us these classic lines:
"What is your major malfunction?"
"Me so horny. Me love you long time."

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