Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Full Metal Jacket

Stanley Kubrick's final film exploring war (he made quite a few) is really two movies in one. They're connected by characters, but they really couldn't be more different. Well... they could. But you know what I mean. In the first part, real-life military man R. Lee Ermey establishes the hard-ass drill instructor persona that would carry his career for the rest of his life. He's training a group of recruits at Parris Island for entry into Vietnam, and suffice it to say he's not a very nice man. Long, elegant tracking shots follow him around the barracks as he berates the crap out of his men in endless, creative diatribes that are so infamous that practically every single line is a recognizable quote all these years later. It's pretty entertaining, although the story takes a dark turn when Vincent D'Onofrio's character's continued failures and screw-ups cause Ermey to turn the other soldiers against him, which eventually results in an untenable situation.

The movie then jumps a couple years to show a couple of the soldiers now stationed in Vietnam. The narrative is a lot more jumpy and disconnected at this point, although there's still a lot of harrowing, memorable stuff going on. Adam Baldwin shows up, looking surprisingly close to how he does now, playing an unusually minded machine gunner who ends up being key to many of the events down the road. There's a hodgepodge of war scenes and more contemplative stuff, the former always amazingly well shot and the latter sometimes funny and often poignant. Eventually things go real bad, as they are wont to do in war movies, and Kubrick really gets to the heart of the darkness involved in battle. It's not a very long movie and it gets fairly scattershot in the second half, but it has many powerful ideas sprinkled throughout, as well as some very nice performances. The use of music is again memorable, from the funny marching songs in the beginning to the soundtrack selections in the end. Not Kubrick's best work, but still distinctly his.

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