Wednesday, April 2, 2014

FULL METAL JACKET (3) vs. PLATOON LEADER (14)



 
VS.
 
 
 




ACTING
The acting in “Full Metal Jacket” is great, especially considering that the cast is far from all-star. Modine does a good job as the main character and he is likeable and witty. D’Onofrio as Pyle owes his career to this movie. For a debut, he knocks it out of the park. His transition from grinning buffoon to malevolent nutcase is amazing. Although Ermey had acted before (starting with 1978’s “Boys in Company C”), FMJ was his breakthrough. He completely dominates all his scenes. Watch him closely – the dude never blinks! It is important to note that he is not really acting. As far as Baldwin, he is perfect as Animal Mother and should still be kissing his agent’s ass for getting him the part. A

Now for something completely different. “Platoon Leader” stars Michael Dudikoff as Lt. Knight. The best that can be said for the perpetual B movie star is he performs well in comparison to the rest of the cast. There is some truly abysmal acting going on here. Some of the overwrought reactions to comrades’ deaths are painful to watch. F

FIRST QUARTER SCORE
Full Metal Jacket = 9
Platoon Leader = 5


PLOT

FMJ is divided into three parts. The first is the justifiably famous boot camp sequence. It is brilliant in every way and the rest of the film cannot ascend those heights again. Not that the rest of the film is weak. The second part finds Joker (Modine) is Vietnam as a Marine correspondent. He goes off to Hue to get a firsthand look at the Tet Offensive. It is there that he hooks up with Cowboy’s Lust Hog squad. Here we get the bonding of veterans as opposed to the virgins of boot camp. The third part is the duel with the sniper. This part hammers the war is hell theme and the loss of innocence. B

“Platoon Leader” has a trite plot and breaks no new ground. Knight is the green lieutenant that has to win the respect of his men. His men are misfits who need to be shaped by combat and good leadership. There are clichés at every turn. The movie is predictable all the way to the reunion of battle-bonded buddies in the last frame. The only redeeming factor is the predictably low budget, over-the-top combat. The plot is not going to tax your brain and sometimes it needs a rest. D

HALF TIME SCORE
Full Metal Jacket = 17
Platoon Leader = 11


COMBAT

FMJ is not really a combat movie. There is a brief scene where Joker helps defend his base against a sapper attack at the opening of Tet. It’s a night scene and has some fun pyrotechnics. The takeaway is the look of exultation on Joker’s face as he enjoys American firepower. The action in Hue builds from scenes of the results of urban combat to combat itself. It is the micro view as the Lust Hogs appear to be the only American fighting in the city. The sniper scene is intense and suspenseful. A group of comrades lose their faux swagger in the maelstrom. It may be one against eight, but it is a fair fight. C

“Platoon Leader” is not the first Vietnam War movie to choose quantity of combat over quality. Not that quality was an option given the production. You could blame the low budget, but they spared no expense when it came to blanks and explosions. There is a commendable variety. We get the patrol that encounters a sniper, a tunnel, and a booby trap. The trifecta. We get the ambush / ambushed scene. Have you ever seen six men throw 30 grenades onto chilling Congs? Naturally we get the reenactment of the Alamo as the sneaky hordes try to get gooks in the wire. And it’s on to the big “it sucks to be a villager” climax. You’ll smile as you shake your head. C

THIRD QUARTER SCORE
Full Metal Jacket = 24
Platoon Leader = 18


REALISM

FMJ is not surrealistic like “Apocalypse Now”, but it does not try to be a realistic. Surprisingly, the boot camp scenes are actually the most realistic of the film. People ignorant of the Marine Corps methods of molding men found this part of the movie to be exaggerated, but in reality Ermey was basically reenacting his own experiences. If anything the abuse is toned down. Joker’s stint as a correspondent dueling with the military’s puff machinery is true to the official coverage of the war. The soldier interactions accurately reflect the macho attitudes of young Marines who mask fear with bluster. The Hue set is appropriately rubbleized. The attitudes of the young Americans seasoned by their descent into Hell rings true. The sniper’s tactics are realistic although the duel spins off into fantasy. B

“Platoon Leader” is based on an excellent memoir by an officer in the war. The screenplay veers far from the true story which is a pity because a closer adaptation would have been superior to the finished product. The movie throws in characters and incidents that screenwriters who are ignorant of the war think are true to its nature. Nothing happens that could not have happened, but not all to the same unit and in such poorly executed fashion. C

FINAL SCORE
Full Metal Jacket = 32
Platoon Leader = 25


ANALYSIS

A match between the two books would have been much closer and more intriguing. The battle between was a foregone conclusion. Unlike some of the other lambs led to the slaughter (like “Siege of Firebase Gloria”), “Platoon Leader” has no delusional fans who argue for its greatness. “Full Metal Jacket” is similar to “Apocalypse Now” in its polarizing nature, but even with its uneven three act structure it is clearly one of the best Vietnam War movies. Is it the best? That is what this tournament will determine. Stick around.

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