Sunday, April 6, 2014



The Vietnam War sections feature only two characters but they are iconic. Mike (DeNiro) was born to lead and was in his element in the Nam. He comes up with the plan to save the trio from captivity and then tries to hold together the group afterwards. DeNiro is perfect in the role and the character represents the guys who cannot be blamed for us losing the war. As tough as he is, he comes back damaged goods. The other dominating character is Nick. Christopher Walken won a Best Supporting Actor award for his searing performance. Nick is the PTSD poster boy. They represent two extremes in a movie that is not noted for subtlety. The problem is the movie tells us nothing about the characters from enlistment to captivity. B

“Platoon” is also dominated by two characters – Elias and Barnes. Elias is the disillusioned older brother and Barnes is the alcoholic uncle. However, it is definitely an ensemble piece. The roles run the gamut of soldier types. In that respect it reflects the standard small heterogeneous unit with Taylor playing the cherry who has to learn quickly to survive. His character arc is the central outline of the film. The movie has several other memorable characters – the psychotic Bunny, the ass-kissing O’Neill, the stolid Rhar. Repeat viewings reward because some of the characters are indistinct at first. The key to the film is the division of the platoon into the competing cliques of the dopers and the boozers. Although a bit heavy-handed, the use of the two factions is a useful metaphor for the hawks and doves. A


The Deer Hunter = 8
Platoon = 9


It is problematical to discuss TDH in terms of soldier behavior because when we first see Mike, Nick, and Steven in Vietnam they have been there for several months and are immediately captured. The movie is not interested in portraying the soldier experience. It does a seemingly good job depicting the behavior of typical young males from a steel town before and after their experience (provided their experience is uniquely horrible). I’m going to go with a default C for this one. C

“Platoon” was lauded for its realistic representation of Vietnam soldiers when it was released. The praise was too strong, but the film deserves a lot of credit for being one of the best tutorials on grunts. There are many things the viewer can learn about soldier life from the film. Some examples are: the treatment of new guys, the use of drugs in rear areas, the role of sergeants. Most importantly, the movie depicts the different ways soldiers reacted to stresses. The camaraderie and banter is not forced like in other Vietnam War films. A


The Deer Hunter = 15
Platoon = 18


As with the behavior category, TDH is hard to grade here. There is a very brief segment where Mike is participating in either attacking or defending a village. He uses a M2 flamethrower to roast a NVA regular. That seems an unlikely weapon for him to use. The soldiers that arrive soon after, including Nick and Steven, are all armed with M16A1s. As far as tactics, there are none shown. This would be an appropriate place to mention that the enemy tactic of forcing captives to play Russian roulette for sport was bull crap. D

“Platoon” has a variety of weapons as would be typical of a platoon. Most of the men are armed with M16A1s and King has a “Pig” (M-60). One messup has the sergeants armed with the Colt Model 653P in an apparent attempt to arm them differently than their charges. This model was not used in Vietnam. The movie does a good job featuring Claymores. Tactically, the movie has several scenes that show a variety of tactics. The night ambush is fine. The search and destroy that results in the location of the tunnel and the subsequent activities in the village fit the war. Sending the platoon back in as bait to make contact with an enemy force and having them walk into an ambush is true to the war. The big battle at the end is similar to several in the war and includes a “broken arrow” reference. B


The Deer Hunter = 21
Platoon = 26


TDH is totally fictional and it is more of a character study than a war movie. The scenes set in Vietnam have some accuracy problems. I already mentioned that there is no evidence that the VC forced their captives to participate in Russian roulette tournaments. In fact, there is little evidence that Russian roulette was played even in the anything goes atmosphere of Saigon. Not to mention that Nick would have been playing for years by the time Mike returns during the fall of the capital. D

“Platoon” is also fictional, but supposedly semi-biographical from Oliver Stone’s experiences in the 25th Infantry. Some of the vignettes are supposedly based on incidents that he witnessed or had happen to him. The most that can be said is that everything that happens in the film probably did happen to some platoon at some time. It’s the accuracy of the portrayal of the soldier experience that makes the movie accurate. B


The Deer Hunter = 27
Platoon = 34


This is an upset only to Rotten Tomatoes reviewers. Keep in mind that most critics reviewed “The Deer Hunter” as a movie, not a Vietnam War movie. It is undoubtedly a cinematic masterpiece, but as a war story it has weaknesses. It tells you very little about the Vietnam War and some of what it tells is false. It is much better as a home front movie which means the categories that I have chosen were not its strengths. I questioned whether it should have been in the tournament to begin with but included it because I could not get some more obvious choices (like “A Rumor of War”) and it is hard not to include one of the most famous Vietnam War movies. On the other hand, “Platoon” is still the Vietnam War movie for most of the public. Both films won the Best Picture award (the only Vietnam War films to do so), but I think it is clear that “Platoon” is the superior film.

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