Saturday, March 29, 2014

PLATOON (5) vs. SIEGE OF FIREBASE GLORIA (12)




VS.
 
 



 

ACTING
            The”Platoon” ensemble is of up-and-comers and they show great promise. Sheen evinces the proper naivete and eventual loss of innocence as Taylor. The showier roles of Elias and Barnes are nailed by Dafoe and Barnes (both of whom were nominated for Best Supporting Actor). Special mention to the two most loathsome characters: Dillon as the psychopath Bunny and John McGinley as the ass-kisser O’Neill. All of them went through Dale Dye’s boot camp and their performances reflect immersion over the usual emoting. They are not playing soldier, they seem to be soldiers.  A+

                ‘’Siege of Firebase Gloria” is basically a two man show.  R. Lee Ermey has his first starring role, coming off of “Apocalypse Now” the year before.  This time he has to act as he is not playing a drill sergeant.  He still has a way with soldier talk and the profanity that goes with it.  He got an uncredited screenplay nod so you can assume he wrote some of his dialogue.  He carries the movie.  Unfortunately, his peer Wings Hauser performs like the B-List actor that he is.  He chews the faux Vietnamese scenery as the unstable DiNardo.  The rest of the cast is no names who did not earn career boosts for their efforts.  C

FIRST QUARTER SCORE
Platoon                                     10
Siege of Firebase Gloria          7

PLOT
            “Platoon” is based on Oliver Stone’s experiences in Vietnam about midway through U.S. involvement.  The plot centers around a dysfunctional platoon and its antagonistic sergeants Barnes and Elias.  Each sergeant has half of the platoon as his acolytes.  The platoon is divided between Barnes’ boozer hawks and Elias’ doper doves.  The pressures of the unit dynamics and the stress of the guerrilla war they are engaged in leads to some tense moments in the field and in camp.  Besides the dramatically enhanced group interactions, the film includes some edge of your seat combat.  Stone is not subtle in advancing his themes, but the screenplay is effective as entertainment and is educational about the soldier experience.  A

                “Siege” is basically a retelling of the Alamo.  It is set at the beginning of the Tet Offensive.  Hafner, DiNardo, and their LRRP end up in the titular firebase just before a major VC assault.  Hafner takes command and organizes the last stand.  Meanwhile, the film gives balanced treatment toward the VC commander.  There is plenty of mindless action in the form of human wave attacks.  The screenplay is your typical “who will survive?” scenario and is predictable, but not embarrassingly executed.  C

HALFTIME SCORE
Platoon                                     19
Siege of Firebase Gloria        14

COMBAT
            “Platoon” has several set pieces that are among the best of any Vietnam War movie.  Major kudos for reenacting night combat so viscerally.  Although night actions were fairly common in Vietnam, you seldom see them in movies.  The combat scenes do an excellent job not lumping all the characters together.  They remain individuals.  If you compare the last battle to the last assault on Firebase Gloria, it is amply clear which movie handled combat better.  A

                “Siege” has more combat, so it tops “Platoon” in quantity.  There are three “Zulu” type assaults that are long and bloody. They lack subtlety, but the movie was not aimed at the art house crowd.  As usual in this kind of film, the slaughter is enough for several real battles.  The quantity is not matched with quality as the extras often die laughably.  All the various ways to kill and be killed are explored, including death by machete.  B

THIRD QUARTER SCORE
Platoon                                     28
Siege of Firebase Gloria        22

REALISM
            Although Stone oversold his film as the realistic take on the war, it is clear that the movie’s platoon is not typical of a small unit in Vietnam.  However, all of the characters and situations were typical of the war in general.  The tactics are true to the American army in the war.  The movie has been criticized for depicting the soldiers in a bad light, but my reading of oral histories assures me the negative actions and portrayals were justified because they did exist.  The soldier behavior, the lingo, the command dynamics are probably the best tutorial on the war that have been put on film.  B

                “Siege” benefits from a realistic portrayal of leadership by R. Lee Ermey.  However, much of the film is over the top in its coverage of the war.  The firebase is authentic looking, but much of the soldier behavior is ridiculous.  The original commander (before Hafner has him fragged) is a naked drug addict.  DiNardo is a psychopath prone to violating the rules of warfare.  There is a night raid on the enemy camp that defies reality.  The movie attempts to be sympathetic towards the VC, but does them a disservice in its depiction of human wave assaults in broad daylight.  If the same had been done in their preferred milieu of night, the firebase would have been overrun early.  The sporadic use of mortars by the enemy also does not match their tactics.  Only people like me care about stuff like this, but its my tournament    D

FINAL SCORE

Platoon                  36
Siege                       29

ANALYSIS
            “Siege of Firebase Gloria” has its fans and my second viewing of it made me reconsider my previous very harsh opinion of it.  It is a decent little movie and far from the worst movie about the war.  However, while it can be forgiven for emphasizing entertaining action aimed at the 14 year old boy demographic, it has to take some grief for making a mockery of realism and characters.  If the film did not have R. Lee Ermey, it would be totally forgettable.  This matchup was never in doubt.  “Platoon” is the superior film in every way other than quantity of combat.  There might be some who would disagree with the outcome because they hate “Platoon”, but no one can seriously argue that “Siege” is the better movie.

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